Weekly Analytical Report on Monitoring Results 4: July 9th – July 22nd
- Creation of initiative groups for collection of signatures in support of candidates’ nomination does not show any significant difference in intensity from its regular level for parliamentary elections in Belarus: the total of 439 initiative groups applied for registration. The commissions are still considering the applications. However, it is likely that the percentage of rejected applications will be quite small. The main reason for rejection – submission of application documents by a person other than the potential candidate — is essential for evaluation of current rejections (initiative groups for nomination of the former presidential candidates Mikola Statkevich (who is behind the bars at the moment) and Ales Mikhalevich (a political refugee)).
- The local authorities determined the places where initiative groups are not allowed to collect signatures in support of their candidates. In a number of cases these places include most popular and crowded city territories.
- None of the complaints submitted by the United Civil Party and BPF Party to Minsk city court and regional courts about non-inclusion of their representatives in district election commissions were satisfied. Composition of the commissions remained unchanged. Representation of the opposition forces in the commissions is only 3%.
- Observers register significant participation of the executive bodies in the work of the district election commissions, as well as other cases of administrative resources used for the benefit of the pro-governmental candidates (such as assistance in campaigning).
- OSCE/ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission on the deployment of the parliamentary election observation mission visited Belarus. Just before that chair of the Central Election Commission Lidia Yarmoshyna attended the conference on election organizing in Vienna, held by the OSCE.
- The regime keeps up the dynamics of persecution and repression of its opponents. That does not help create the climate of openness and transparency during the election. In particular, we, again, have registered several cases of preventive administrative arrests on fabricated charges of disorderly conduct. KGB detained a number of persons in conjunction with intrusion of the Swedish plane in the air space of Belarus, which scattered teddy-bears with notes in support of freedom and democracy in Belarus.
Registration of Initiative Groups in Support of Candidates’ Nomination
The stage of candidates’ nomination began on July 15th and will continue until August 13th. Nomination can be done in 3 different ways: by decision of the superior bodies of political parties, by decision of meetings of working collectives, and by initiative groups of voters through signature collection. The oppositional political parties which decided to nominate their candidates (UCP, BPF Party, Fair World, BSDP (H), and the Greens) will use the first option. Pro-governmental candidates are usually using the second option.
The third way of nomination (signature collection) is usually used by both opposition and pro-governmental candidates as a special form of early campaigning for a candidate: signatures are usually collected through street pickets and door-to-door activities, while pro-governmental candidates also collect signatures at state institutions and enterprises.
Applications for registration of initiative groups (no less than 10 people) were submitted to the district commissions on July 15th – 19th. District commissions had 5 days to make the decision about registration of an initiative group. As of reporting time, we do not know yet all the results of group registration. However, there have already been cases when some initiative groups were denied registration.
We have observed cases, when the initiative groups in support of candidates who had not submitted the application documents personally were denied registration. This is the bright example of inconsistency in interpretation of the law by the election commissions. During the previous presidential election the Central Commission said it was legal for Alexander Lukashenka to submit application for registration not personally, but through an agent. Now similar tactics became the ground for denial of registration of the initiative groups of UCP member Viktoria Hryniuk (Ivatsevichy district #11), Ivan Amelchanka (Kalinouski district #108), and BPF member Valery Karankevich (Krychau district #83). However, Karankevich managed to submit the application again and his group was finally registered. Quite predictably, the initiative groups of the imprisoned former presidential candidate Mikola Statkevich, which applied for registration in different districts, were denied registration. Initiative groups in support of the former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich who had received political asylum abroad applied for registration to all district commissions in Minsk.
Altogether 439 initiative groups applied for registration in 110 districts, which is about four initiative groups per district. However, geographically the applications were not evenly spread. Most applications for registration were filed in Minsk: 142 applications in 20 districts (the average of 7.1 applications per district). In Mahiliou region 64 initiative groups applied for registration in 13 districts (4.9), in Vitebsk region there were 52 applications in 14 districts (3.7), in Brest region – 48 applications in 16 districts (3), in Hrodna region – 38 applications in 13 districts (2.9), in Minsk region – 48 applications in 17 districts (2.8), and in Homel region – 47 applications in 17 districts (2.8).
The activity of the initiative groups this year decreased insignificantly in comparison with the ordinary activity level for parliamentary elections in Belarus. In 2008 455 initiative groups applied for registration, while in 2000 475 applications were submitted. The parliamentary election of 2004 had a higher activity level: 634 initiative groups tried to register, but many of them were denied registration.
Among the political forces that take part in the elections the following groups said they had formed initiative groups in support of their representatives: “Tell the Truth” civic campaign (27 initiative groups, campaign leaders are not running), United Left Party “Fair World” (28 initiative groups), BPF Party (12 initiative groups, including the group in support of the party chairman Aliaksei Yanukevich), UCP (7 initiative groups, including the initiative group in support of UCP honorary chairman Stanislau Bahdankevich), and BSDP (H) (about 9 initiative groups). Alexander Milinkevich, chairman of the Movement for Freedom, has also filed his application for registration of the initiative group.
The initiative groups that were denied registration have an opportunity to appeal to the Central Election Commission, and then – to the Supreme Court. The registered initiative groups have to collect no less than 1,000 signatures of their district residents and submit them along other nomination documents to the appropriate district election commission no later than August 13th.
Candidates loyal to the regime use the option of nomination through meetings of working collectives. On July 19th, the working collective of Barysau instrument-making plant held a meeting, unanimously voting for nomination of the incumbent MP Viktar Huminski.
Authorities Determine Locations Forbidden for Signature Collection
During the monitoring period the local executive bodies determined the places where initiative groups are forbidden to collect signatures. Just as during the previous presidential election, they include significant territories in the crowded spots of the big cities, especially in Minsk.
According to the decision of Minsk city executive committee of July 5th 2012, signature collection is prohibited on the main squares of the city (Kastrychnitskaya Square, Victory Square, Independence Square and Railway Station Square), as we as at a distance less than 50 meters from the buildings of state administration, pre-school and school institutions, and enterprises of the vital activity of the state (public transport, water facilities, etc). Signature collection in metro pedestrian subways is permitted. Pickets can be held from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
We did not observe consistency in the ways the local authorities determined the placed forbidden for signature collection. Sometimes different rules have been applied within the borders of one district that includes several territorial units. For example, the territory of Luban raion is part of Salihorsk rural district #69 at this election. Luban executive committee prohibited signature collection pickets closer than 50 meters from the buildings of the local representative, executive and administrative bodies, the court, the prosecutor’s office, the territories of the organizations that ensure defense capacity and vital activity of the population (public transport, enterprises of water-, heating- and energy services, hospitals, clinics, pre-schools and schools). At the same time, on the territory of Salihorsk raion (which is also part of the Salihorsk rural election district # 69) pickets near the organizations that ensure vital activity of the population are not prohibited.
Local executive committees often use incorrect wordings in their decisions on the places forbidden for signature collection. That opens an opportunity for extremely broad interpretation and manipulation by members of the initiative groups: “other places that ensure vital activity of the population”, “other places where pickets will hinder the activity of enterprises, organizations and institutions”, “organizations that ensure vital activity of the population”, etc. The observers warn that using these wordings in practice might lead to serious disputes, restrictions and obstacles for signature collection.
In some cases the activists unhappy with the restrictions appealed against the decisions on forbidden places. For instance, representative of BPF Party Vital Amialkovich addressed the court with the demand to recognize the decision of Slutsk raion executive committee of July 6th, 2012 invalid and oblige the local authorities to make a new decision that would ensure the electoral rights of the voters of the town and raion of Slutsk. Similar complaint was also filed in Brest, where the territory for signature collection has significantly shrunk in comparison with the previous election. In Slonim (Hrodna region) the executive committee cancelled its decision about the places forbidden for signature collection and made a new decision in a week. The decision of Baranavichy city executive committee is more liberal this time in comparison with the election in 2010.
According to the observers’ reports, some initiative groups have already launched signature collection campaign, including pickets and door-to-door activities. However, we do not observe high level of activity yet. On July 18th several people held a street action in support of the election boycott.
Results of Appealing against Decisions of Forming District Election Commissions
According to Article 35 of the Election Code, superior bodies of political parties can nominate one representative to each district election commission. Most nominations were made by The United Left Party “Fair World” (88 representatives), BPF Party (57 representatives), and UCP (42 representatives). The majority of the representatives nominated by these parties were not included in the district election commissions. UCP and BPF Party filed complaints to Minsk city and regional courts about the joint decisions of the presidiums of the appropriate local Council and the executive committee.
According to Article 34 of the Election Code, complaints about decisions on forming the election commissions are to be signed by the head of the party that nominates its representative to a commission. Hrodna regional court referred to this regulation when refusing to hear 9 complaints filed by BPF Party and 5 complaints filed by UCP, as the complaints had been signed by the persons who did not have the authority to do that (member of BPF Party Conference and UCP deputy chairman, respectively).
Minsk city and Minsk regional courts considered the complaints of BPF Party and rejected them, as the decisions of creation district election commissions do not violate the rights of the party and do not violate the election law. The decisions just reflect the drawbacks of the Election Code that does not establish concrete criteria for selection of election commission members and does not determine the decision-making procedure.
All 30 complaints filed by the BPF Party were either rejected or not taken for consideration (9 – by Mahiliou regional court, 7 – by Minsk city court, 5 – by Minsk regional court, and 9 – by Hrodna regional court). Also, none of the complaints filed by the UCP were satisfied. This way, appealing to courts against the decisions on forming district election commissions did not lead to any increase in the opposition representation in the commissions: it remained 50 people, which is 3% of the total number of district election commission members.
Participation of Bodies of Executive Power in Work of Election Commissions, Usage of Administrative Resource
Observers report, representatives of the local bodies of executive authorities took active part in the beginning of the work of election commissions. We have registered cases when they did not only open the meetings of the commissions, but also made suggestions and even voted on issues. This way the executive authorities began using the administrative resource for the benefit of the pro-governmental candidates which becomes more and more visible as the election unfolds.
In Lahoisk and Smaliavichy raions the district election commission # 75 registered the initiative group of Yahor Lebedok (incumbent member of Smaliavichy Council) on July 13th giving it certificate #1, in violation of the Election Code (the group had been registered before nomination of candidates began on July 15th).
Observers still register appearance of articles in the regional and national state mass media covering the opposition activity in the negative light and promoting the potential pro-governmental candidates. Observers also report refusals of district election commissions to provide information.
International Observation and Visit of Central Election Commission Head to OSCE
Lidia Yarmoshyna, chair of the Central Election Commission took part in OSCE conference “Democratic Elections and Election Observation”, which took place on July 12th -13th in Vienna. During the conference Yarmoshyna made a short remark, suggesting that the documents that regulate the work of observation missions should include the mechanism of complaining against the assessment made by the missions.
On July 16th – 18th OSCE/ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission visited Belarus. The Mission’s experts met with CEC chairperson Lidia Yarmoshyna, representatives of the oppositional and pro-governmental political parties, and parliament members. On July 18th the Mission met with representatives of the civic campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”: chairman of Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak and vice-chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna Valiantsin Stefanovic. ODIHR will decide on the size of the observation mission to Belarus on the basis of the conclusions made by the Needs Assessment Mission.
Political Persecution and Repression
The authorities continue pinpoint repression against activists of the civic society. The repression is equally used both against members of the parties that participate in the election and boycott supporters. Observers and members of other civic society organizations experience pressure.
On July 17th, on the eve of the visit of the Russian prime-minister Medvedev to Belarus the authorities detained Ivan Amelchanka, putting him behind the bars for 12 days. In the last months, this has been already the fourth administrative arrest of the activist who planned to apply for registration of his initiative group. Head of Amelchanka’s initiative group decided to send the documents by mail, but the district election commission refused to register the group as the application was not submitted personally by the candidate personally.
On July 18th Minsk police detained coordinator of the Belarusian anti-nuclear campaign Tatsiana Novikava, nuclear physicist from Russia Andrei Azharouski, coordinator of the Center of Legal Transformation Mikhail Matskevich (all three sentenced to administrative arrest), and head of Ecodom NGO Iryna Sukhiy (fined). Members of Young Front Uladzimir Yaromenka and Raman Vasilyeu were sentenced to administrative arrest under similar fabricated charges on the ground of false testimony given by police officers.
KGB detained journalist Anton Surapin who was the first to place photos of the teddy-bears with the freedom of speech notes on his web-site. The teddy-bears were spread from a small plane in Ivianets and Minsk by Swedish activists who illegally flew over the territory of Belarus. In conjunction with the case KGB detained 16-year-old Katsiaryna Skurat from Ivianets and Siarhei Basharymau from Minsk. The apartments of the detained were searched.
The police detained Vital Amialkovich, member of BPF Party from Slutsk, near his own house in the midnight of July 14th and accused him of spreading leaflets. The trial will take place on July 27th. Pavel Batuyeu, BPF member from Salihorsk and an observer of the parliamentary election, says the police visited his former employer and asked about his whereabouts.
On July 17th the officers of the department for drug, pornography and trafficking control came to the apartment of Ihar Kazmerchak, member of BPF and editor of Orsha web-site www.orsha.eu. As a result, they took 2 flash drives, a 3G modem, and a computer processor “for examination”. Ihar Kazmerchak is a long-term election observer.