Parliamentary Election: Final Report

2012 2012-12-13T15:40:24+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/zasvabodnyjavybarylogo-en.png The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

  Election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the 5th Convocation

 

Republic of Belarus, 23 September 2012 


Final Report

 

Minsk, 11 December 2012

 

 

 

IMPRESSUM

 

The campaign Human Rights Defenders is a joint undertaking of the

 

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

viasna@spring96.org

www.spring96.org

 

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Minsk, Karla Liebknechta St. 68/1201

Tel. +375 22 24 800

www.belhelcom.org

 

implemented in cooperation with

 

Europäischer Austausch (European Exchange)

Erkelenzdamm 59, 10999 Berlin

Tel. +49 30 616 71 464 – 0

info@european-exchange.org

www.european-exchange.org

 

supported by

MATRA Programme of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Poland

 

Contents

 

List of Abbreviations. 4

I.      Introduction. 5

II.         Executive Summary. 5

III.       Observation Environment 7

IV.       Legal Framework and Electoral System.. 8

VI.       Candidate Registration. 13

A.         Registration of Initiative Groups. 13

B.         Signature Collection for Candidate Nomination. 14

C.         Candidate Registration. 15

VII.     Election Campaign. 18

VIII.        Polling. 25

A.         Early Voting. 25

B.         MobileVoting. 27

C.         Voting at polling stations. 28

IX.       Complaints and Appeals. 33

X.         Recommendations. 35

 

List of Abbreviations

 

BCD - Belarusian Christian Democracy

Belarusian Union of Women - Public Association “Belarusian Union of Women”

Belaya Rus – National public association “Belaya Rus”

BHC - Human rights public association "Belarusian Helsinki Committee"

BLP "Fair World" - Belarusian Left Party "Fair World"

BPF – BPF Party

BRSM - Public Association "Belarusian National Youth Union"

BSDP (H) - The Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada)

BSSP - Belarusian Social Sports Party

Calendar Plan – Calendar plan of arrangements for preparation and conduct of elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Fifth Convocation

CAO - Code of Administrative Offences

CCP-BPF - Conservative Christian Party of BPF

CEC - Central Commission for Elections and Referenda

CIS - Commonwealth of Independent States

CPB - Communist Party of Belarus

DEC - District Election Commission

DEC – District Election Commission

EC - Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus

KGB - Committee for State Security of the Republic of Belarus

LDPB - Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus

Movement "For Freedom" - Human rights and educational public union movement "For Freedom"

OSCE - Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

OSCE/ODIHR - Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

PEC – Precinct Election Commission

RPLJ - Republican Party of Labor and Justice

UCP – United Civil Party

 

I.                  Introduction

The “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign is an independent and non-partisan joint initiative of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The goal of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign is to observe the election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus in 2012, to assess the electoral process and its compliance with the Belarusian electoral legislation and the international standards of free and fair elections, as well as to inform the Belarusian public and the international community about the observation results.

 

On the first day of the election 95 long-term observers began their work within the framework of the campaign, covering 106 out of 110 election districts. They prepared weekly reports on the course of the election process, which were processed, presented and distributed as the campaign’s weekly and preliminary reports on all stages of the election.

295 short-term observers at 150 polling station all over the country observed the early voting and the Election Day procedures. Their reports were processed every day, making it possible to reveal the general trends in the election administration and register the level of violations of the Electoral Code. 

 

II.               Executive Summary

The Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign concludes that the election process was marked by serious violations of the principles of democratic and fair elections, as described in the OSCE standards and the Belarusian legislation. The election took place in an atmosphere of political persecution and repression of the government’s opponents. This political environment, as well as the limitations at the stages of election commission creation and campaigning had a negative effect on voters’ freedom to make an informed choice. Non-transparency of the vote count procedure makes it impossible to state that the election results reflect the will of the Belarusian people.

 

The election of 2012 is the first parliamentary election conducted under the amended Electoral Code. Mainly, the amendments to the EC are of a positive nature. However, the absence of effective mechanisms of enforcing citizens’ rights and appealing against violations significantly diminishes the positive effect of the amendments.  The substantial part of the election process remains non-transparent and non-public. The electoral legislation lacks sufficient mechanisms to resist manipulation in administration of the election.  

 

Lack of criteria for selection of nominated candidates to election commissions made it possible for the executive bodies to manipulate the process. Although the Electoral Code guarantees representation of political parties and public associations in election commissions, in practice, the representatives of the opposition political parties made up less than 1% of the commissions.

 

The Electoral Code changes made ​​in 2010 simplified the procedure of candidate registration. CEC Ruling # 35 of July 5, 2012 was also meant to simplify the registration procedures, stating that false information about candidate’s income and property is “significant" if the declared annual income is less than the actual, and the discrepancy is more than 20% of the total income.

 

 

Registration of initiative groups supporting candidates’ registration by district election commissions (DECs) was conducted without any obvious violations. The overwhelming majority of initiative groups of the opposition candidates were registered. In general, 85 initiative groups in support of 15 candidates were denied registration. The majority of denials were received by the initiative groups of Mikola Statkevich and Aliaksei Mikhalevich. The denial to register initiative groups of these citizens is contrary to the electoral legislation. DEC decisions to deny registration to initiative groups of citizens in support of nomination of A. Mikhalevich and M. Statkevich was motivated by the fact that the former did not live in the country and was on the wanted list, and the latter was serving a criminal sentence in Mahiliou prison. These decisions were not grounded on law.

Altogether , 494 candidates were nominated, 122 (24.6%) were not registered. Political parties nominated 204 candidates (41% of all nominated candidates). 23% of candidates nominated by political parties were not registered, 19.5% of them were nominees of opposition parties. Candidates nominated by two entities simultaneously (by voters through signature collection and by workers collectives) turned out to be absolutely “passing” candidates – 100% of them were registered. As a rule, this is the nomination route chosen by the candidates who enjoy the support of the authorities. Nominees by workers collectives had an insignificant percentage of denials – 85% of those nominated by workers collectives were registered.  

The contenders nominated by signature collection, a route often choosen by opositional candidates, received the most registration denials – 56%. Moreover, observers were as a rule not able to observe the process of verification of voters’ signatures in signature forms, which gives the stakeholders the grounds to distrust the results, especially in cases where DECs denied registration to candidates.

The campaigning stage was marked by the use of administrative resources for the benefit of the pro-governmental candidates. The state media published materials covering the activity of the opposition forces in a negative light. Compared to the parliamentary election in 2008, the legal framework for campaigning was improved. However, the executive authorities narrowed down the campaigning possibilities envisaged by the amendments. A great number of opposition party candidates were deprived of an opportunity to reach voters. We observed multiple instances when presentations and programs of opposition candidates were censored or not aired. This significantly limited the rights of voters to receive complete information about candidates and their programs.

In the initial days of early voting, there was little difference between the observers’ data and the PEC information relating to the number of voters who had voted early. However, by the end of early voting the difference between the official and the observers’ data grew bigger. Also, the number of polling stations at which the PEC data were different from the observers’ data increased significantly by the end of the early voting period.

 

Observers received multiple refusals of election commissions to provide information about the number of voters registered at polling stations. Observers also noted cases of violations in PECs when PEC members failed to seal the ballot boxes in a sound manner, ignoring the remarks made by observers. There were also instances when polling station premises were not closed during breaks and at the end of the day.

 

The mobile voting was marked by numerous violations. This primarily concerned arranging voting at the voter’s location for voters who failed to apply for the option and obstacles in observers’ activities by members of precinct election commissions.

 

In the vast majority of polling stations (93.6%) monitored by independent observers, the ballot boxes were located in sight of the PEC members, observers and media representatives. 5.3% of observers registered cases of several ballot papers being given to one person. There were instances of pressure on observers and their illegal expulsion from the polling stations. 26.8% of the observers stated that the activities of the precinct election commissions were appealed by more than one person at a time.

 

The procedure of vote count was not transparent. In the majority of PECs, even PEC members did not have an opportunity to check the accuracy of counting the votes reflected in the ballot papers. Observers of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign revealed discrepancies in figures of voter turn out registered by them and the PEC records of voting results.

 

Altogether, 525 complaints were filed in the course of the election. The majority of them concerned unmotivated failure to include representatives of public associations and opposition political parties in election commissions. As in previous elections, none of the complaints were satisfied.

 

57 complaints about denial of registration were submitted to the Central Election Commission, 11 of which were satisfied. Out of 19 complaints against relevant CEC decisions filed to the Supreme Court, only 1 was satisfied.

 

III.        Observation Environment

Traditionally, the CIS Election Observation Mission and the International mission of OSCE/ODIHR are the international missions that observe elections in Belarus.

In addition to the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections (HRDFE) campaign, the election was observed locally by the “For Fair Elections” campaign, which united over 10 political entities and represented partisan observation of the opposition forces, as well as the participants of the project “Election Observation: Theory and Practice” and the Movement for Freedom.

Some pro-governmental public associations and political parties (Belaya Rus, BRSM, Belarusian Union of Women, Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, etc.) also claimed they observed the election to the Chamber of Representatives. However, they did not present the results of their activity to the public.

 

Organization (campaign)

Number of long-term observers

Number of short-term observers

Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

98 (covering 106 polling stations)

350 (covering 188 polling stations)

For Fair Elections

0

1555 (covering

777 polling stations)

Belaya Rus

94

5012

BRSM

63

4512

Belarusian Union of Women

36

1976

Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus

38

4048

* According to CEC data.

 

The HRDFE observers encountered various problems when monitoring the election: they experienced pressure from government bodies, were denied information by the electoral commissions, removed from polling stations, and called to administrative account. Those circumstances deteriorated the election environment in comparison to the elections in 2008 and 2010.

 

The Central Electoral Commission ruled, in accordance with the Resolution[1], that for the first time in national elections political parties and non-governmental associations could only send observers to polling stations operating on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. As a result, observers of the HRDFE campaign were denied an opportunity to work at the polling stations in the diplomatic and consular missions of Belarus to Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Russia, China, France and other countries. Such limitations were not observed during the presidential elections in 2010.

 

These provisions of the resolution violate the principles of openness and transparency in the electoral process and contradict Article 13 of the Electoral Code, which stipulates the rights of observers. The Central Election Commission overstepped its authority and, in fact, changed the provisions of the electoral legislation. This was done in order not only to limit domestic observers rights to observe the elections at the polling stations abroad, but also to constrain opposition candidates’ abilities to use the campaign as an opportunity to advocate for a boycott of the election.

 

IV.        Legal Framework and Electoral System

The election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly was appointed by presidential decree of June 18, 2012. The Chamber of Representatives is elected on the basis of a majoritarian system in 110 single mandate constituencies.

 

The election to the Chamber of Representatives of the Fifth Convocation was the first parliamentary election held under the Electoral Code amended in 2010 and 2011[2].The following are the main changes in the electoral legislation:

  • Each election commission should include at least one third of representatives of political parties and other public associations; it is prohibited to include judges, prosecutors, heads of local executive and administrative bodies as commission members; state officials cannot make up more than one third of commission members.
  • The minimum required number of citizens in a group that can nominate their representatives to a district election commission was decreased from 30 to 10 Also, the number of members of workers collective that delegates a representative to a commission was decreased from 30 to 10. The amended EC set forth the right of the entities that nominated their representatives to commissions to be present at meetings of entities that created them. 
  • Candidates and their proxies can use notification procedure for holding mass campaign events in the places determined by the local executive and administrative bodies.
  • In order to nominate a candidate for parliamentary election in a given district, political parties no longer need to maintain a local structure there.
  • Decisions of the bodies that formed the commissions may be appealed to courts by entities that nominated their representatives to commissions.
  • Candidates to the Chamber of Representatives now have the right to create private election funds for financing their campaign activities in the amount of 1,000 basic units.

 

 

Following the parliamentary elections in 2008, the national observers and the OSCE-ODIHR mission worked out recommendations for reforming the Belarusian electoral legislation. Some of the recommendations were reflected in the new version of the Electoral Code adopted on January 4, 2010. While the adopted amendments to the Electoral Code are mainly positive, many of the recommendations, including measures to increase the transparency of the election process, remained unaddressed. No regulations for ensuring open public vote count were established. Commission chairperson and secretary still have no obligation to give a copy of the protocol of election results to persons who have the right to be present during vote count at polling stations. Thus, the election legislation kept the drawbacks in regulation of the election procedures that can be used for abuse and falsification of the election results.

 

  1. V.             Election Administration

 

According to the Calendar Plan, District Election Commissions (DECs) were created by July 9, and Precinct Election Committees (PECs) were formed by August 8, 2012. The procedure for forming a DEC and PEC is regulated by Articles 28, 34, and 35 of the EC.

 

DECs for election to the Chamber of Representatives are formed by Presidiums of the regional and Minsk city Councils of Deputies and regional and Minsk city executive committees, out of representatives of political parties, other non-governmental associations, work collectives, as well as representatives of citizens, nominated to the commission by citizens’ application.  The nomination procedure is regulated by Article 35 of the Electoral Code and Ruling #22 of the Central Election Commission of June 19, 2012. DECs have the authority to organize the election, manage the activity of PECs, register initiative groups of citizens for collection of signatures in support of candidates’ nomination, register candidates and their proxies, administer the lists of voters, etc.

 

PECs keep voters’ lists updated, carry out early voting and voting at voters’ location, organize voting on the Election Day, carry out the vote count, and register the voting results at a polling station.

The electoral legislation limits the right of political parties and public associations to nominate representatives to a PEC as opposed to to a DEC. Nomination to a PEC can only be done by organizational structures of political parties and associations that have registered with the state, or are on record with the local authorities. Thus, national associations that do not have organizational structures are generally unable to participate in the electoral process as part of precinct commissions.

 

In the run up to the election, some organizations (Minsk city and regional organizations of the Movement for Freedom, Hrodna organization of the BPF Party) tried to register the local organizational structures but were refused. As a result, they fell under the restriction of the Electoral Code and did not have the right to nominate their members to precinct commissions.

2,127 people were nominated to the district election commissions. Among them, 639 (25%) persons were nominated by citizens’ groups, 230 (9%) by workers collectives, 858 (40%) by non-governmental organizations and associations, and 400 (19%) by political parties.

 

The political parties in opposition were quite active in nominating representatives to district election commissions. Altogether the Belarusian opposition parties nominated 199 persons, i.e. 9.35% of the total number of individuals nominated to DECs, or 49.75% of the total nominated by political parties.

 

Just as during the previous election, pro-governmental public associations (Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, Belarusian Public Association of Veterans, BRSM, and “Belaya Rus”) were active in nominating their representatives to DECs. These four public associations made up 28.3% of all nominations and 70% of those nominated by public associations.

 

According to the Central Election Commission, DECs consisted of the  maximum number of members – 13 persons in each commission. Opposition parties were represented at a level of 3.3% (48 out of 1, 430). 

 

The main organizations represented in DECs were the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, the Belarusian National Union of Youth (BRSM), public association “Belaya Rus”, and the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans. Consequently, despite the fact that the number of political party representatives in DECs somewhat increased in comparison to the parliamentary election in 2008, the number of rejections remained at a very high level. We should point out that in 2008 the political parties in opposition limited their representation in election commissions by design, proposing one representative per commission from all the oppositional parties. This time, there was no such agreement, i.e. sometimes the opposition parties nominated their representatives to the same commissions. Simultaneously, the “passing” rate of pro-governmental representatives was significantly higher this year. For example, the “passing” rate of Belaya Rus representatives was 90.5%. This is evidence of bias toward the contenders nominated by the opposition parties.

 

According to observers, information about the place and time of the meetings of the bodies that form district election commissions was revealed in a limited manner. In the overwhelming majority of cases, decision-making about membership of DECs was made by voting for complete lists, without open discussion of the nominated candidates.

 

For instance, at the meeting of the presidium of the Brest Regional Council of deputies and the regional executive committee, the contenders for DEC did not have a chance to introduce themselves. Their candidacies were not discussed. Only general selection criteria were announced during the meeting (work experience, responsibility, size of a political party or a public association, etc.). Draft resolutions had been prepared in advance.

 

In Homel region, the meeting of the presidium of the regional Council of Deputies and the regional executive committee lasted for 13 minutes. Participants of the meeting voted for the lists, which had been prepared in advance by the working group.

 

In Minsk region and Minsk city there was no discussion about the contenders; participants of the meetings voted for the lists, which had been prepared in advance. Observers point out the biased and subjective nature of the decisions. For instance, representatives of the political parties in opposition were turned down in conjunction with the elderly, while members of veterans’ organizations were included in the commissions. Among other grounds for refusal were absence of previous work experience on election commissions, official unemployment of a contender, and authority of a contender in the region, etc.

 

According to the Central Election Commission, 84,781 people were nominated to precinct election commissions, out of them: 32,908 (38.8%) were representatives nominated by citizens using signature collection, 15,375 (18.1%) by workers collectives, and 36,498 (43%).by political parties and other public associations.

Pro-governmental associations led in nomination to PECs: the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (over 12%), Belaya Rus (6%), the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (5%), the Belarusian Union of Women – 4,037 (5%), etc. For instance, in Vitebsk region, those entities, together with Belarusian Public Association of Veterans, nominated 85% of applicants from public associations, or 32% of the total number of people nominated to PECs. The nomination activity of these organizations has not shown any serious change in comparison to the presidential election in 2010 but has grown a lot in comparison with the parliamentary elections in 2008.

 

10 of the 15 registered political parties nominated their representatives to PECs in this campaign. The political parties and associations loyal to the authorities have intensified their activity. For example, the Republican Party of Labor and Justice nominated 832 people, which is twice the number nominated in 2010. 

 

In comparison to 2010, the opposition parties have decreased their activity. During the 2010 presidential elections, the 1,073 nominees of the oppositional political parties made up 1.3% of the total number of nominees. Today, 664 representatives nominated by the five opposition parties are only about 0.8% of the total number of nominees. According to the Central Election Committee, the Belarusian Left Party "Fair World" nominated 216 people, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party ("Hramada") - 30, UCP - 240, BPF - 158, and the Belarusian Party "The Greens" - 20. The share of opposition activists among all those nominated by political parties and public associations was 3.2% in 2010, and only 1.8% in 2012.

In general, in this election campaign, the proportion of representatives of political parties and public organizations nominated to PECs increased to 42%. During the presidential election of 2010 it amounted to 39.1%[3]. Respectively, in 2012 the number of representatives nominated to PECs by citizens and workers collectives declined.

There was a significant discrepancy between the figures of nominees to PECs announced by the opposition parties and the figures published by the Central Election Commission. For example, the United Civil Party (UCP) declared nomination to the precinct commissions of 296 of its members, while the CEC official documents show a figure of 240[4] UCP nominees. Similar discrepancies exist in the official and party nomination statistics of the Belarusian Left Party "Fair World" and the BPF Party.

 

Unregistered political entities – the Party of Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) and the "Tell the Truth" campaign – used signature collection procedures in order to nominate their representatives to PECs. BCD stated that it nominated 171 representatives.

 

Meetings of executive committees and local administrations were held in conditions of relative openness to the observers. Just as in case of DECs, they were very formal, as one could see from their nature and duration. In the vast majority of regions the voting procedure boiled down to a quick and uncontested approval of commission lists, prepared in advabce of a meeting in a non-transparent manner.

 

According to observers, the Biaroza executive committee needed only 6 minutes to approve 486 out of 515 nominees, while Pruzhany executive committee required 12 minutes to approve 558 out of 701. At the meeting of the Smaliavichy executive committee, the head of the Department for Human Ressources and Organizational Work only reported the number of the applications filed and the number of members of each PEC. As a result of the vote, precinct election commissions in Smaliavichy rayon consisted of 80% of the people engaged in the PEC during the 2010 presidential election. The meeting of the Salihorsk executive committee lasted for 15 minutes, at which the committee approved 691 out of 741 applications, failing to report on how candidates had been nominated to the PEC, which political parties and organizations nominated them, as well as the reasons why some candidates were included, while others were denied.

In Minsk, the city with the highest political activity, the opposition parties nominated 186 representatives. None of them were included in the PECs (the “passing” percentage was 0). Despite high nomination activity in the districts where leaders of opposition groups were running (Aliaksandr Milinkevich, Aliaksei Yanukevich, Uladzimir Navasiad, and others), none of the opposition activists were included in the PECs.

In some rayons, city executive committees, and local administrations, observers had the opportunity to review the PEC nomination materials. However, in many places the bodies that created PECs did not let observers and interested persons read through those materials. Thus, the observers were unable to check the legitimacy of nominations to precinct commissions, and the principles of openness and transparency of the election procedures were not ensured.

Some observers had problems with access to meetings of bodies forming the PEC. Information about the time of the meetings was often concealed. Some executive committees rejected the right of the observers to attend the meetings, in violation of Part 2 of Article 39 of the Law "On Local Government and Self-government". Such cases were recorded in the Hlybokaye, Vileika, Lahoisk, Maladechna, Orsha, and Vitebsk rayon executive committees..

 

The regional press and the websites of city and rayon executive committees published information on the membership of precinct election commissions, which consisted primarily just of the name, surname, patronymic and the route o nomination. Information about the place of work was not made public, because just as during the previous elections, election commissions are formed and operate on the place of work basis.

Altogether, 6,301 PECs were formed inside the country, while 43 were formed outside Belarus. No meeting was held on the formation of the precinct commission at a polling station established in Stockholm. As a result of the Belarusian-Swedish diplomatic conflict, the staff of the Belarusian Embassy in Sweden was called away, and the above-mentioned polling station was closed.

Representatives of public associations, including political parties, made up 45.3% of PECs, representatives of workers collectives – 16.2%, representatives of citizens nominated by signature collection – 38.5%. In comparison with the 2010 presidential election the role of workers collectives as actors in the electoral process decreased by almost 4%, while the role of NGOs increased by 3.5%. On average, 1.2 people competed for a place in a precinct commission. This figure is quite different in Minsk – 1.6.

Today, the proportion of total representatives from the four opposition parties is about 0.1% (61 out of 68, 945). In the presidential election of 2010, the share of the five opposition parties was 0.26% (183 out of 70,815).

 

VI.        Candidate Registration

A.   Registration of Initiative Groups

According to the Calendar Plan, submission of documents and registration of initiative groups for signature collection in support of candidate nomination lasted from 15 to 25 of July, 2012. Article 65 of the Electoral Code regulates the process.

The amended Electoral Code proposes more liberal procedures of signature collection and verification. In particular:  

  • If the signature sheets received by an appropriate commission include signatures of voters residing in different rayons, or cities of regional subordination, or rayons in the city, only the signatures collected in the corresponding territory are to be verified and counted (while in the previous edition of the Electoral Code signatures of voters who resided in different settlements were considered invalid.)
  • A signature sheet should include signatures of voters who reside in the territory of one city of regional subordination, one rayon, in cities with rayon division – in the territory of one rayon (not in one settlement, as provided in the previous version of the Electoral Code);
  • Signature sheets shall be certified by a member of the initiative group (not by heads of local executive bodies where signatures were collected, as in the previous edition of the Electoral Code);

 

Participation of organizations’ administrators in signature collection, compulsion in the signature collection process, as well as rewarding voters for signatures is prohibited. Those intending to become candidates do not have the right to ask people under their supervision or subordinate to them in other official way to carry out activities related to their nomination during working hours. Violation of these requirements may become the ground for not registering the candidate.

According to the Central Election Commission, the district commissions received a total of 440 applications for registration. They registered 352 initiative groups intending to nominate 330 candidates (some candidates registered several initiative groups in different districts).

Opposition parties registered a total of 58 initiative groups: Belarusian Left Party "Fair World" - 26, BPF Party - 18, UCP - 4, BSDP (H) - 9, Belarusian Party "The Greens" - 1. Non-opposition political parties registered 7 initiative groups: the Communist Party of Belarus - 5, Belarusian Agrarian Party - 1, Republican Party of Labor and Justice - 1. 

 

85 groups were denied registration; percentage-wise, this is almost 4 times the number of denials than in the previous parliamentary elections. Despite this, there are no grounds to state that the practice of issuing denials to persons who intend to be nominated has become more severe. This time, only 15 potential candidates were rejected. One of the reasons why the large number of initiative groups was denied registration is the fact that groups supporting Mikalai Statkevich and Ales Mikhalevich tried to get registered in several districts. During the previous election campaigns, observers did not record such tactics as registration of several initiative groups in support of one person.

 

Election year

Applications filed

Denied registration

Registered

% of denial

2004

635

71

564

11%

2008

455

23

423

5%

2012

440

85

354

19%

 

 

The CEC chairperson explained why Mikalai Statkevich’s and Ales Mikhalevich’s initiative groups were denied registration. According to Lydia Yarmoshyna, Statkevich did not pass any letters to the election commissions through the administration of the correctional institution where he was serving a criminal sentence, while Mikhalevich is on the international wanted list. Documents for registration of his initiative group had been submitted together with an overdue letter of authority. Experts of the Human Rights Defenders campaign think that denials of registration to initiative groups for nomination of Ales Mikhalevich and Mikalai Statkevich are illegal[5].  

 

B.   Signature Collection for Candidate Nomination

According to the Calendar Plan, signature collection for nomination of candidates lasted from July 25 to August 13. The process of signature collection is regulated by Article 65 of the Electoral Code.

 

The election commissions received a total of 223 signature packages. Candidates were nominated in several ways. Among them, 123 candidates were nominated only by signature collection, 88 both by signature collection and workers collectives, and 8 by signature collection and political parties. 4 candidates used all three methods of nomination.

 

Signature collection was carried out either by picketing or door-to-door activities. These two methods were used by initiative groups of both pro-governmental and opposition candidates. When collecting signatures the initiative groups of opposition activists were met with unequal conditions as compared to the initiative groups of the loyal candidates. Observers registered cases when the administration of student and worker dormitories did not allow signature collection in the dorms referring to the fact that signature collection was not authorized by the management of the educational establishments or enterprises the dorms belonged to.

In many cases, administrative resources were involved (collecting signatures in the offices of the state institutions during working hours, involvement of officials, who are not members of initiative groups, etc.). For example, in Slutsk the “Slutskmezhraygaz” and “Slutsk Meat" enterprises organized signature collection for the incumbent MP Inessa Kliashchuk. In Brest city polyclinic # 6 patients were asked to put their signatures in support of the pro-government candidate Valiantsin Milasheuski. In Navapolatsk, director of one of the city markets collected signatures in support of Vadzim Dzeviatousky, chairman of the local "Belaya Rus" branch, from the vendors who rented market stands.

We have also registered instances when administrations of enterprises and institutions forbade their subordinates to support nomination of opposition candidates or demanded that subordinates leave their initiative groups.

In overwhelming majority of cases, signature collection pickets did not encounter any obstacles from the local authorities.

At this stage of the election observers registered cases when participants received written warnings and were held administratively liable. 

 

C.   Candidate Registration

According to the Calendar Plan, district election commissions are to register candidates no earlier than 40 days and no later than 30 days before the beginning of the election – from August 14th to August 23rd, 2012, respectively. The process of candidate registration is regulated by Article 68 of the EC, as well as the respective Regulations of the Central Election Commission[6].

The list of documents established by Article 66 of the Electoral Code required for candidate registration to include a declaration about income and property of a person nominated as a candidate. If the discrepancy of the information provided in the declaration about income and property is significant, a DEC might refuse to register a candidate.

 

According to CEC Ruling #35 of July 5th, 2012, the discrepancy of information is significant if the discrepancy is more than 20% of the total amount of the yearly income. Also, absence of information about realty, personal motor transport, securities (shares), etc. in declaration papers is an “essential discrepancy” too. Absence of information about income received as travel vouchers subsidized by trade unions, welfare assistance, compensations, etc. is to be considered “non-significant”.

 

During the presidential election in 2010, according to the relevant CEC explanation, the “significant discrepancy” meant declaring the amount of yearly income that was more than 10% lower than the actual yearly income.

 

Discrepancies in voters’ signatures in signature sheets (more than 15% of the total amount of the examined signatures) are one of the grounds to deny registration to a candidate. This is why observation of the signature verification procedure and its compliance to the requirements of the Electoral Code is an important and essential part of civic control over the election process.

 

The procedure of signature verification by DECs is described in Article 67 of the Electoral Code. The main stipulation is that no less than 20% of signatures in the signature sheets, of the amount required for candidate’s registration, are to be examined and verified. This means that no less than 200 signatures are to be examined. If there are more than 15% of unconfirmed signatures among the examined ones, then the commission is to examine an additional 15% of the signatures required for registration (150 signatures).

 

If the total amount of unconfirmed signatures makes up more than 15% of the total amount of signatures, examination is discontinued. CEC Ruling # 23 of June 19, 2012 allows persons other than a voter or a member of an initiative group to enter data about a voter in a signature sheet. In fact, this legitimizes the administrative resource that might be used by the authorities. It’s important to point out that this Ruling does not comply with part 16 of Article 61 of the Electoral Code, which states that all signatures in a signature sheet are invalid if they are collected by a person who is not a member of an initiative group.

 

The majority of observers of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, who were registered at DECs, were not allowed to be present and observe the procedure of signature verification. The commissions motivated their decision by the fact that Article 13 of the Electoral Code listing observers’ rights does not directly mention the right to observe the signature verification procedure.

 

The DECs examined the signatures outside their meetings, using the meetings only for announcing the examination results. For instance, observers Raman Jurhel and Sviatlana Rudkouskaya (Hrodna), Vasil Lipski (Mahiliou), Leanid Markhotka (Salihorsk) made written requests asking to be present during the procedure of signature verification. The DECs responded that observers do not have such a right under the law.

 

At the same time, some district election commissions did create the necessary conditions for observation at the time of candidates’ registration. For instance, an observer at Dnepr-Buh election district 10 had access to all protocols and signature sheets. Observer at Vileika district 74 also had an opportunity to be present during signature verification procedures.

 

Non-transparency of the procedures of checking the documents submitted in support of candidates’ nomination makes it impossible to assess the compliance of the procedures with the Electoral Code, whether they were impartial and free from a politically-motivated approach by district election commissions.

 

According to the CEC, a total of 494 persons were nominated all over the country. 122 of them or 24.6% were denied registration as candidates for the parliament. Another 9 candidates registered by DECs refused to further participate in the election. In 4 districts the elections were non-competitive (two districts in Minsk region, one – in Hrodna region, and one – in Brest region).

 

Representatives of political parties nominated 204 candidates, which is 41% of all nominated candidates. The results of registration of party candidates are:

 

 

 

Political Party

 

Nominated

Registered

Denied registration (%)

 

BPF Party

33

30

3 (9%)

 

United Civil Party

48

35

13 (27%)

 

Belarusian Left Party “Fair World”

32

26

5 (15%)

Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada)

15

11

4 (26%)

Communist Party of Belarus

23

21

2 (8,6%)

Belarusian Social and Sports Party

1

1

 

Liberal democratic Party

93

70

23 (24%)

Republican Party of Labor and Justice

19

9

10 (52,6%)

 

Most persons who were denied registration were nominated by signature collection (56%). The district election commissions claimed that the main reason was invalid signatures (more than 15% of those examined) and mistakes in income declarations. The "Tell the Truth" campaign nominated 25 of its activists by signature collection, and only 13 (48% of the nominated) were registered. In Minsk, “Tell the Truth” was represented by only one candidate. Other prominent politicians, such as the leader of the "Movement for Freedom" Alexander Milinkevich, youth activist Artur Finkevich, member of the United Civil Party, former Minister of Defence, General Pavel Kazlouski, were also denied registration.

 

23% of nominees by political parties were denied registration. Among them, 19.5% were nominated by the opposition parties.

The smallest number of denials traditionally goes to those nominated by workers collectives: out of the 19 persons who used it as the only route of nomination, only 3 people (15%) did not continue running for mandate. Those nominated by two entities at the same time (by voters through signature collection and by workers collectives) succeeded 100% of the time (89 registered of 89 nominated). We should point out this is usually the nomination route used by candidates who enjoy the support of the government. Bearing in mind that the executive power controls the enterprises, we understand that opposition candidates did not have an opportunity to be nominated by workers collectives.

 

21 incumbent MPs were registered as candidates for the parliament. This time 60 persons who were parliament members at different periods have been nominated as candidates. All 60 of them were registered.

 

Observers reported cases of pressure and intimidation of election participants by the KGB. In Rahachou, Dzianis Dashkevich and his wife were summoned to the local KGB office on August 23rd, after his failure to get registered as a candidate. Some members of Dashkevich’s initiative group also received invitations for a conversation with local KGB officers. Iosif Matseyun, candidate of the Belarusian Left Party “Fair World”, dropped out of the race immediately after his registration at Vileika election district 74. He said he withdrew his candidacy because of the KGB pressure. This district has become one of the four non-competitive districts. The only candidate in this district now is Viktar Rusak, head of the KGB’s Main Department for Economic Security.

 

VII.    Election Campaign

The campaigning period lasted for one month – from August 22, the day of candidate registration, to September 22. Candidates registered as a result of appealing the denials of registration had less time for campaigning in comparison to other candidates. 

 

Conditions, procedures and forms of campaigning are regulated by Articles 45, 451, 46, and 47, chapter 10 of the Electoral Code and the respective Regulations of the Central Election Commission[7].

However, the use of the new standards was curtailed by the executive authorities. There were numerous recorded cases of bans on TV and radio presentations, censorship of addresses and election platforms of opposition candidates. Some printing presses refused to print election campaign materials. The local authorities did not help to hold mass events.

The candidates were entitled to a five-minute speech on state radio and state television. Their presentations were pre-recorded. Simultaneously, they were not allowed to use audio and video materials prepared beforehand.

On July 5, 2012 the CEC created the “Supervisory Council for control over compliance with the rules and regulations of election campaigning in mass media” (the SC). Members of the Supervisory Council are officials from the Ministry of Information, the President’s Office, and representatives of the state-owned mass media. Civil society in the SC is represented by members of the pro-governmental Belarusian Union of Journalists.

The CEC did not consider the proposal of the opposition parties represented in CEC to incorporate representatives of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and independent media as its members.

 

On August 27th, 2012 the SC considered the appeal filed by Channel "Belarus 2", "Capital TV" company and "Mahiliou" TV company about the compliance of speeches of candidates Nina Kaliada, Artsiom Ahafonau, Viktar Malochka and Matsvei Khatary with the Electoral Code. The candidates, all members of the United Civil Party, called for a boycott of the elections. The SC decided that the speeches could not be considered election campaigning, because "the right to give free-of-charge speeches on state television and radio is provided to candidates for election campaigning only, as the law does not envisage the use of these opportunities for other purposes”[8].

 

On August 28th secretary of the CEC Mikalai Lazavik told the journalists: "The state would not be wise to organize the election, spend a great deal of money on it and provide the opponents with an opportunity to use airtime for campaigning against the state event"[9].

 

Following SC recommendations, the CECpassed Ruling #93, which excludes boycott calls from election campaigning. The Ruling is contrary to Art. 45 and 47 of the Electoral Code and, in fact, introduces censorship of candidates’ campaign statements in mass media, and, in a number of cases, during public speeches.

 

As a result, television and radio companies began to massively refuse airtime to candidates who call for boycotting the election. On August 28 "Homel" TV-and-radio company did not show Vasily Paliakou’s speech, UCP candidate in Homel-Savetskaya electoral district 34. On August 29, "Brest" TV-and-radio company failed to broadcast a speech by Anzhalika Kambalava, UCP candidate in Baranavichy-Zakhodniaya district 5. On the same day, radio "Stalitsa" did not broadcast the speech of UCP candidate in Barysau city district 62, Leu Marholin. TV channel "Belarus-2" failed to show speeches of UCP candidates Adam Varanets (Homel rural electoral district 37) and Marat Afanasyeu (Buda-Kashaliova district 38). On 30-31 August we registered reports about some other candidates’ speeches which were supposed but failed to be aired.

 

UCP reports, altogether, 31 candidates representing their party did not have their speeches broadcasted. The recordered speech of the UCP candidate in Brest-Uskhodniaya district 3 was edited and broadcasted despite the candidate’s will. Some candidates pointed out that during the recording the staff of TV and radio companies told them not to use the words “boycott”, “picket”, etc.

 

Boycott supporters regularly encountered obstacles from police and law-enforcement bodies, especially when attempting to distribute campaign materials. 

 

In Minsk the police detained Valery Buival, who was later sentenced under Article 23.4 of the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO) to a fine of 25 basic units (about 250 Euro). In Vitebsk BCD member Yauhen Hutsulau was sentenced to 7 days of jail for distribution of campaign materials. Boycott campaigners were also detained in Minsk, at Frunzenski election district 101, where “Tell the Truth”, the “Movement for Freedom”, and BPF Party held intensive campaign activities. Paval Vinahradau was sentenced to 5 days of arrest, Alexander Artsybashau to 3 days of arrest, and Yahor Viniatski to 7 days of arrest.

 

On September 6, the police searched the office of the “Tell the Truth” campaign and confiscated boycott campaign materials. On September 18, during a rally in favor of boycotting the elections in Minsk law enforcement agents detained about a dozen activists and journalists, including correspondents of the leading foreign media, accredited in Belarus.


There were cases when leaflets calling for boycott of the election were confiscated. On September 18 representatives of the law-enforcement agencies detained about 15,000 UCP leaflets near Lida in Hrodna region.

 

Censorship and prohibition of free-of-charge presentations in the state media by the candidates who called for a boycott, do not comply with the Belarusian legislation and the country’s international obligations, violate the principle of equality of candidates and restrict both the rights of candidates to campaign and the rights of voters to receive full and objective information about candidates and their platforms.[10].

 

TV and radio debates for candidates were introduced to the EC in 2010. However, in practice this campaign method has been inefficient. Ruling #122 of the CEC outlawed the participation in TV and radio debates of the election agents who are candidates themselves. This is contrary to Article 46 of the Election Code, which allows candidates’ agents to debate instead of the candidate without any conditions or restrictions.

 

In Baranavichy-Zakhodniaya district 57 Volha Palityka, a member of Baranavichy City Council running for the parliamentary mandate refused to take part in TV debates with the candidate of the BPF Party Mikalai Charnavus and UCP candidate Anzhela Kambalava. The same happened in Pinsk city election district 14 and in Pruzhany district 9. 

In some districts, the candidates who declared their intention to participate in the debates have been denied this right. That is, in Slonim district 58 BPF candidate Ivan Sheha and BLP "Fair World" candidate Mikhail Karatkevich were denied their right to debate. The CEC turned down the complaint filed by Ivan Sheha. Thus, in Hrodna region we did not record a single case of radio or television election debates. Seven debates were not broadcasted because the candidates advocated for a boycott of the election.  

 

 

Information about TV and radio presentations, and TV and radio debates of candidates * 

 

Region

Number of districts

Number of candidates

 

TV presentations

 

Radio presentations

 

TV debates

 

Radio debates

 

 

 

 

 

Applied for

 

Held

Applied for

Held

Applied for

Held

Applied for

Held

1.

Brest

16

51

51

38

51

36

10

7

-

-

2.

Vitebsk

14

49

49

37

49

35

6

6

18

15

3.

Homel

17

53

53

41

53

46

2

1

-

-

4.

Hrodna

13

34

34

28

33

24

-

-

-

-

5.

Minsk

17

42

42

23

42

28

2

2

-

-

6.

Mahiliou

13

46

46

41

44

35

4

4

11

10

7.

Minsk city

20

89

78

72

89

72

15

10

12

12

 

Total

110

364

353

280

361

276

39

30

41

37

 

* According to the CEC. The number of candidates does not take into account withdrawal of candidates nominated by UCP and BPF.

 

Just as in the electronic mass media, candidates’ platforms prepared for publication in printed media were censored as well.  Thus, the editorial team of Mahiliou newspaper "Prydniaprouskaya Niva" refused to publish the platform of Alexander Shautsou, UCP candidate in Mahiliou-rural district 88. The “Mayak” newspaper made significant cuts in the article by Alexander Kabanau, UCP candidate in Pruzhany district 9. Zviazda” and “Respublika” newspapers failed to print the platform of Yuri Khashchavatski, UCP candidate in Kastrychnitski election district 7 in Minsk. “Nash Krai” newspaper asked BPF Party candidate in Baranavichy-Zakhodniaya district 5 Mikalai Charnavus to cut out criticism of the government from his platform. Newspaper “Mahiliouskiya Vedamastsi” censored Lilia Sivakova’s election platform, candidate of the Belarusian Left Party "Fair World" in Mahiliou-Kastrychnitskaya district 86, etc. Biaroza rayon newspaper Mayak refused to publish the platform of Valiantsin Lazarenkau, candidate of BSDP (H) in Ivatsevichy district 11. Uladzimir Nepomniashchykh’s campaign poster photo, candidate in Homel-Navabelitskaya district 36, was photoshopped in order to delete the slogan on the candidate’s T-shirt. 33 out of 68 possible TV and radio presentations of UCP candidates were not broadcasted. Hrodna regional newspaper “Perspektyva” refused to publish the program of BPF Party candidate Ales Straltsou (Hrodna rural district 52) in the languages of the national minorities (Polish and Lithuanian) living in the areas near the borders with Poland and Lithuania. BPF Party considered that a violation of a candidate’s right to campaign and violation of the voters’ right to use their mother tongue. 

Some state-run newspapers refused to publish platforms of opposition candidates referring to the fact that they had submitted the platforms of their political party instead of their own programs.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Information about publishing candidates’ programs in state-owned newspapers *

 

 

Region

Number of districts

Number of candidates

Number of candidates whose programs were published

Newspapers which published the programs

national

Regional (incl. Minsk city)

Rayon (town) newspapers

1.

Brest

16

51

31

 

11

51

2.

Vitebsk

14

49

26

2

1

31

3.

Homel

17

53

40

 

2

28

4.

Hrodna

13

34

32

 

5

29

5.

Minsk

17

42

28

 

 

49

6.

Mahiliou

13

46

32

 

7

54

7.

Minsk city

20

89

33

15

35

 

 

Total

110

364

222

17

61

242

* According to the Central Election Commission. The number of candidates does not take into account withdrawal of candidates nominated by UCP and BPF.   

 

Refusal to provide free-of-charge TV and radio airtime to candidates or to publish their platforms cannot be considered legitimate or justified. According to paragraph 7.7 of the OSCE Copenhagen Document (1990) [11], the OSCE Member States ensure that law and public policy work to permit political campaigning to be conducted in a fair and free atmosphere in which neither administrative action, violence nor intimidation bars the parties and the candidates from freely presenting their views and qualifications, or prevents voters from learning about and discussing the canidates or from casting their vote free of fear of retribution.

 

The Electoral Code establishes two procedures for holding mass campaign events. According to Article 45 of the EC, mass events can be held in compliance with the legislation on mass events. In conjunction with that we should point out that the authorization-based procedure of holding rallies, demonstrations and pickets established by the Law “About Mass Events” has been repeatedly criticized for restricting the freedom of assembly.

 

Article 451 of the Electoral Code establishes the declarative procedure for holding campaign events.     This provision of the Electoral Code has not always been implemented in practice. Vitebsk rayon executive committee failed to provide an opportunity for Leanid Autokhou’s (BPF) proxy to carry out a picket in Buyany village (Vitebsk rayon) under the declarative procedure (part 2 of Article 45-1 of the Electoral Code). Chyhunachny rayon court of Vitebsk failed to hear the complaint about the incident within the legal three-day period. 

 

Campaign events of opposition candidates encountered obstacles from the executive authorities. Such cases were especially common in the regions. On September 7 the leadership of the agricultural production cooperative "Slavutsichy" in Zelva rayon ordered to stop a meeting with voters organized by candidates Ivan Sheha (BPF) and Mikhail Karatkevich (BLP "Fair World") in Slonim district 58. During the meeting of deputy head of the Committee for State Control Alexander Aheyeu with employees of “Babushkina Krynka” company, the company’s administration attempted not to allow Ryhor Kastusiou, deputy head of BPF Party, to come to the meeting.

Opposition candidates claimed that the sites determined for holding meetings with voters were mostly inconvenient and seldom visited. Observers in the regions confirmed this claim. This was especially typical for rayon centers and rural areas. We should point out, that Minsk city executive committee did not satisfy any requests for holding mass events in support of a boycott submitted by BCD and other opposition parties.

Campaigning for loyal candidates involved representatives of local executive committees, heads of government agencies, organizations and enterprises. In many places they created favorable conditions for meetings of the pro-government candidates with voters. Administrative resources were used for this purpose across almost all regions. Pro-governmental candidates had meetings at enterprises organized for them, often such meetings were held during working hours. For instance, Tatsiana Kananchuk, head of Slauharad rayon council and rayon organization of Belaya Rus, running in Bykhau district 81, held a meeting with employees of Bykhau bakery during working hours. Administration of Maladechna school 9 organized the teaching staff and parents of students to meet Stanislau Kulesh, director of “Biarezinskaye” company running for the parliamentary mandate in Maladechna rural district  73. Administrative resources were also used for organizing meetings with voters of Uladzimir Dziedushukin, head of Orsha rayon executive committee running in Orsha-Dniepr district 27. The state structures provided support to one of the five candidates in Brest-Zakhodniaya district 1, general director of Brest CUM Viktar Valiushytski, etc.

Candidates had the right to produce printed campaign materials (posters, flyers, signs, statements, photo materials) using public funds in the amount of 50 basic units, as well as through private campaign funds (up to 1000 basic units) and their own money (up to 20 basic units). The candidates who planned to drop out by the Election Day, mostly abstained from using the campaign funds from the state budget.  

State-owned and private printing houses ("Yanka Kupala Printing Plant", "Minsk Factory of Color Print", and "Chyrvonaya Zorka") refused to print the campaign materials funded by private campaign funds of the opposition candidates. Some of them referred to heavy workload. BPF Party said, 15 private printing houses had refused to print BPF Party materials.Only 4 of the 31 candidates from the BPF were able to use their private campaign funds and print flyers.

The state printing company "Tytul" in Rechytsa, Homel region, refused to print 10,000 copies of campaign materials for Anton Nefiodau, running in Rechytsa district 44. Candidate in Vitebsk-Chkalauski district 18, Aliaksei Haurutsikau, and candidate in Vitebsk-Horki district 17, Alena Famina, could not get their campaign materials in time from the state-owned printing house. Without campaign flyers they had difficulties organizing an effective campaign.

Observers from all over the country reported that there were very few campaign materials distributed in districts. Campaign visual materials were hardly visible in the places determined for campaigning. Meanwhile, observers registered cases when officials counteracted placement of opposition candidates’ campaign materials on information boards. Brest division of "Belpochta" (state post service) and "Belfarmatsiya" (state pharmacy network) refused to provide space for campaign posters of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) candidates at all post offices and pharmacies in the city of Brest.

 

 

 

Information about usage of public funds by candidates *

 

 

Region

Number of districts

Number of candidates

Candidates who used public funds (completely/partially) for production of campaign materials

 

1.

Brest

16

51

33

2.

Vitebsk

14

49

41

3.

Homel

17

55

45

4.

Hrodna

13

34

26

5.

Minsk

17

46

31

6.

Mahiliou

13

46

33

7.

Minsk city

20

89

64

 

Total

110

370

273

* According to the Central Election Commission. The number of candidates does not take into account withdrawal of candidates nominated by UCP and BPF.   

 

After withdrawal of BPF candidates, the DEC demanded that they should return the state campaign funds used by three BPF candidates.

The right to establish private campaign funds was used by less than a third of the candidates. Altogether they opened 85 private campaign accounts. Opposition candidates reported bureaucratic obstacles from the election commissions, which slowed down the opening of their accounts. The last account was opened on September 18, when early voting was already under way. There were no registered instances of using campaign funds to pay for outdoor advertising or advertising on radio and television.

 

Information about usage of private campaign funds *

 

 

Region

Number of districts

Number of candidates

Number of campaign funds (accounts) created by candidates

Number of campaign accounts which funds were actually used by candidates

1.

Brest

16

51

15

14

2.

Vitebsk

14

49

12

10

3.

Homel

17

53

16

14

4.

Hrodna

13

34

7

5

5.

Minsk

17

42

4

4

6.

Mahiliou

13

46

14

5

7.

Minsk city

20

89

17

15

 

Total

110

364

85

67

* According to the Central Election Commission. The number of candidates does not take into account withdrawal of candidates nominated by UCP and BPF.   

 

 

VIII.          Polling  

A.   Early Voting

Early voting was held from 18 to 22 of September, 2012. The procedure for early voting is regulated by Article 53 of the Electoral Code.

The law does not require any official proof of the inability to come to the polling station on the Election Day. Every day of the early voting, the PEC is to make and post the protocol indicating the total number of the received ballot papers, the number of voters who received the ballot papers (on the last day – the total number summing up all days), the number of spoiled, and, separately, unused ballot papers.

 

It is prohibited to force voters to take part in early voting. Despite that, our observers registered forced early voting at about 16.8% of the observed polling stations.  

 

Mainly, the citizens who voted early were those who depend on the stateL students living in student dormitories, dormitory residents, military servicemen, employees of state-owned enterprises, citizens on personal restraint, etc. We observed the following indications of coercion to participate in early voting: voters’ requests that the PEC issue certificates that they have taken part in the voting, organized transfer of voters’ groups to a polling station, PEC members reporting to representatives of administration about participation in early voting, etc.

 

We registered cases when observers were prohibited from using photo cameras to collect data about the election process. Observer Anatol Paplauny was expelled from polling station 1 (Homel district 34) for taking photos of the ballot boxes.  For different reasons, PECs expelled observers from polling stations 36 (Haradok of Vitebsk region), 23, 47 (Mahiliou), 14 (Vitebsk).

 

On average, at about 3.1% of polling stations, observers of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign encountered obstacles when counting the number of voters who took part in early voting. In particular, the observers noted multiple refusals to provide information about the number of voters registered at polling stations. That made it impossible to count the percentage of early voters among all the voters registered at a polling station.

 

 

 

Sept 18

 

Sept 19

 

Sept 20

Sept 21

 

Sept 22

 

On average

Number of polling stations from which early voting reports were received

151

158

156

158

165

157

Percent of polling stations where obstacles for observers were created

 

3%

3,6%

3,2%

2,5%

3%

3,1%

 

In 5.4 % of cases, observers made remarks about the procedure of sealing ballot boxes on the first day of early voting. Loose sealing of boxes was registered at polling station 412 of Masiukoushchyna district 103 and polling station 594 of Uskhodniaya district 107 in Minsk, polling station 44 of Brest-Zakhodniaya district 1, etc. Violation of the official schedule for the PEC took place, on average, at 4.5% of the polling stations.

Observers of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign were allowed to be present at polling stations only during the official working hours. However, there were multiple instances when PEC members were present at polling stations behind closed doors at the time other than the working hours set up by law. They explained that this was needed for the “working needs of PEC”, “preparation of the office for voting”, etc. Also, there were observed instances of voting offices not being closed during the breaks and at the end of the day.

 

Interference of third persons in the work of PECs was noted at about 20.9% of polling stations. Mainly, they were representatives of the local executive authorities, representatives of enterprises and institutions’ administrations, etc. This happened at PEC 14 of Vitebsk-Chyhunachnaya district 19, PEC 30 of Hlybokaye district 22, etc.

 

At many polling stations, observers saw people in plain clothes who refused to introduce themselves to observers. In Minsk, such cases took place at polling station 572 of Uskhodniaya district 107, polling stations 396, 397 of Sukharauskaya district 102, polling station 243of Hrushauskaya district 98. Observers also registered presence of heads of police departments who checked on the activity of police officers at polling stations.

 

We observed multiple cases when PEC members and representatives of state-owned enterprises and educational establishments cross-checked the lists of those who voted and did not vote, which is an obvious sign of attempt to control the situation. The PECs regularly informed administrations of the appropriate institutions about the number of those who took part in the early voting (polling station 12 of Mahiliou-Leninskaya district 84, polling station 31 of Brest-Uskhodniaya district 3, etc.)

 

Protocols about the results of everyday voting were not posted for public viewing at 1% of polling stations. Observers explained to PEC members the necessity to make everyday reports about the results of early voting.

 

According to the estimates of the observers of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, during the initial days of early voting there was little difference between the observers’ data and the PEC information relating to the number of voters who had voted early. However, by the last day of early voting, the difference between the official and the observers’ data was 3,831 people.

Also, the number of polling stations at which the PEC data were different from the observers’ data increased significantly by the end of the early voting period – from 30.7% to 39.5%.

 

In some cases, observers registered significant differences in their count of voters who voted during one day and the official data announced by the PEC at the end of the day. For instance, in Homel-Savetskaya election district 34 at polling stations 1, 2, 18, 23 the double and triple difference in numbers continued to be registered throughout the whole early voting period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Number of voters who voted early[12]

 

Day

Number of polling stations with available information about the number of those who have cast their votes

Number of early voters  

Difference 

Percentage of polling stations where differences between the official data and observers’ data of those who voted early every day was registered  

PEC data

Observers’ data 

September 18

137

6 357

6 074

-283 (2.3%)

30,7

September 19

143

10 773

10 169

-604 (2.9%)

31,5

September 20

142

13 968

12 889

-1 079 (4%)

28,47

September 21

143

18 181

16 292

-1 889 (5.5%)

40,36

September 22

154

24 989

21 158

-3 831 (8.3%)

39,5

Total (on average)

 

74 608

66 926

-7 682 (5.4%)

(34,2)



 

B.   MobileVoting

Voters, who for health or other valid reasons cannot come to the polling station on Election Day, are provided an opportunity to vote at their place of residence by the PEC. Official confirmation of the inability to come to a polling station is not required. However, according to Article 54 of Chapter 13 of the EC a voter is supposed to apply to the PEC (in oral or written form) with such a request.

 

90.6% of the observers noted that the PEC did keep the list of voters who had requested voting at their place of residence. At 79% of the polling stations, PEC chairpersons provided information to observers about the number of voters who had requested the option. According to observers, at 70% of the polling stations, PEC members who organized the voting at voters’ homes received the number of ballot papers corresponding to the number of voters on the relevant list. At 30% of the polling stations that procedure was violated.

In the majority of cases (79%) observers were allowed to accompany PEC members and be present during voting at voters’ homes.

 

Often PECs arranged voting at the voter’s location for voters who had not applied for the option. For instance, at polling station 9 of Barysau city district 62, PEC reported that 140 citizens had requested voting at home. During the first part of the day PEC members visited 60 homes. Serious mistakes in the voters’ list were revealed. Three citizens were dead (one of them died two years before); 2 citizens were unconscious, and their relatives said they could not request home voting; 5 citizens stated they had not asked for home voting; noone opened the doors between 10 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. at 11 houses; 16 citizens claimed they either had already voted or would vote at a polling station; 3 were absent for different reasons (vacation, etc.). At 20% of polling stations, we observed cases when voters claimed they had not requested home voting.

 

We also registered cases when citizens, visited by PEC members for home voting, refused to cast their vote (polling station 126 of Svislach district 94, polling station 571 of Uskhodniaya district of Minsk, polling station 1 of Orsha-Dniaprouskaya district 27, etc.).

It is prohibited to put voters on the list for home voting after 6 p.m. This violation of the election law was registered at 3.6% of polling stations. 

 

C.   Voting at polling stations

Organizing and holding voting at polling stations is regulated by Articles 51 and 52 Chapter 13 of the EC. In particular, the law states that the ballot boxes should be in sight of the PEC members, observers and media representatives. In the vast majority of polling stations (93.6%) monitored by independent observers that important requirement was met. However, some polling stations (6.4%) failed to meet this standard. Among them were polling stations 47 of Autazavodskaya district 92 and polling station 211 of Kastrychnitskaya district 97 in Minsk, polling station 6 of Ivatsevichy district 11, and polling station 9 of Smarhon district 59, where ballot boxes were located far from observers or were only partially available for observation. 5.3% of observers registered cases of several ballot papers given to one person. 2.1% of observers reported seeing campaign materials at polling stations.

 

Art. 21 of the Electoral Code stipulates that neither the voters nor the observers have the right to look through the list of voters within the precinct. This is explained by the necessity to respect the right of privacy. Voters have the right to receive and check their own data only. PECs often share information with citizens about their family members.

 

When precinct election commissions deny observers access to information on the number of voters within a precinct before the end of the vote count and a unified register of voters is missing creates pre-conditions for election fraud.

 

Observers pointed out inconsistent behavior of PEC members and inaccuracies in their work with voters’ lists at polling stations 572, 586, 594 of Uskhodniaya district 107 in Minsk, polling station 52 of Vitebsk-Chkalauskaya 18, polling station 5 of Hrodna-Centralnaya district 50, polling station 30 of Hrodna-Zaniomanskaya district 49, polling station 32 of Hrodna-Paunochnaya district 51, polling station 70 of Pinsk rural district 15, and polling station 8 of Maladechna city district 72. At those polling stations observers were either denied information without any explanations, given “preliminary data”, or told that “the number was changing all the time”. Observers failed to check the legitimacy of  reasons for changes in the number of voters on the list.

 

PECs are responsible for organizing voting at polling stations. Observers registered cases when third persons actively interfered with their work. At polling station 571 of Uskhodniaya district 107 in Minsk arrangements were made not by the chairperson but by one of the observers accompanied by several people in plain clothes who had conversations with the chairperson in a separate room. Observers at polling station 39 of Vitebsk-Chkalauskaya district 18 registered presence of representatives of local administration and other persons not involved in the process.

 

There were instances of harassment of observers and their illegal expulsion from polling stations. 26.8% of the observers stated that the activities of the precinct election commissions were appealed by more than one person at a time.

 

Under Article 13 of the Electoral Code, the vote count should be transparent: the observers accredited at the polling station, representatives of the media, candidates running in the electoral district and their proxies have the right to attend the count. Before opening the ballot boxes the PEC counts and  announces the number of unused ballot papers.

 

Opening of ballot boxes and the vote count should be carried out separately: first, the ballots from in the early voting box should be counted, then the ballots that were cast in the mobile boxes for voting at voter’s location, and lastly the ballots from the boxes in the polling stations. The results of each vote count should be announced by the chairperson of the commission.

During elections to the Chamber of Representatives votes were counted for each candidate separately.

 

On the basis of the ballot papers that were cast in the ballot boxes, the commission should, first separately and then by summing up the data, determine: the total number of electors who have taken part in the voting, including the number of voters who have taken part in the early voting, the number of voters who have voted at their location and the number of voters who have taken part in the voting on the Election Day; the number of votes cast for each candidate and the number of votes cast for none of the candidates (in single-candidate election districts – the number of votes cast against the candidate), and the number of ballots found invalid.

 

After the end of the vote count, the PEC should hold a meeting to determine and enter into the record the results of the vote count, and to consider complaints, appeals, and personal comments by the members of the election commission (in case there are any). The minutes of the meeting of the PECs should also reflect the results of the separate vote count (drafted in one and only copy and submitted to the government bodies that created the commissions – the district executive committees or the district administrations. The voting results record should specify the overall voting outcome only. The record should be drafted in three copies, signed by the chairperson, the secretary of the commission and the members of the PEC. After its signing, a copy of the record on the voting results should be made available to the public. Issuance of an authorized copy of the voting results to an observer is not envisaged by law.

 

In general, observers were given the opportunity to be present at polling stations during the vote count. However, the majority of observers (73.5%) said that the counting was not transparent, sometimes occurring simultaneously by all PEC members with each member counting only his/her pile of ballots and then passing the numbers to the PEC chair. With such a procedure, neither observers, nor each individual PEC member could know the overall result of vote count at a polling station. In addition, observers were not allowed to be close enough to observe the vote count and thus were not able to see the procedure. .5% of observers reported that they did not have a convenient place to monitor the vote counting. In the majority of cases, PEC chairs did not follow the provisions of the special manual of the Central Electoral Commission, which recommends that the observers be provided an opportunity to observe the counting procedures[13].

 

Observers of the campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign addressed PEC chairmen with written appeals asking to ensure transparency of the vote count. In particular, they requested that one PEC member would count the votes announcing the will of each voter reflected in a ballot paper and demonstrating the ballot to all members of PEC and observers.

 

PEC chairpersons responded with virtually identical answers: vote count will be carried out by PEC members under Article 55 of the EC, and the CEC manual for PECs.  They pointed out that commission members had been trained to do the vote count and establish the election results. However, they failed to describe the procedure they had learned during the training sessions.

 

A good illustration of this is M. Sidoryk’s, chairman of PEC 287 Paudniova-Zakhodniaya district 99 in Minsk, response to BHC observer Vasil Sankovich. In response to the observer's request to ensure transparency of the vote count procedure, he said: "Having considered your appeal, I inform you that due to the fact that the Electoral Code does not describe the counting procedure, precinct election commission 287 of Paudniova-Zakhodniaya district 99 will carry out the vote count procedure in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Belarus and in a form convenient for members of the commission".

 

40.4% of observers reported that PECs failed to announce the results of a separate vote count, and 8.9% said that there had been no separate vote count at all. These facts indicate that almost half of the monitored PECs performed the vote count procedures with violations of the requirements of Article 55 of the EC.

After the vote count many observers pointed out that the proportion of voters who had voted at home was quite high among registered voters in the area, up to 10% or higher in some cases.

 

Also, there were cases when the number of voters registered at a polling station was reduced on Election Day.

Reviewing the final PEC records, observers of the "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" campaign revealed discrepancies in figures of voters who had cast their votes reflected in the copies of voting results records posted for inspection at PEC offices and their own figures of voter turnout.  The difference was reported at 18.8%.

 

In Minsk, the official number of voters who had voted at 34 monitored polling stations was 30,589 people, while observers reported a turnout of 20,970 people. The difference is 9,619 people (31.4%). However, the observers’ figures do not include home voters. This made it impossible to check the real number of people who took part in the election. Taking into account the numerous cases of manipulation during home voting registered by observers, the number of voters who took part in the vote might actually be even smaller. Certainly, these figures cannot be representative of the entire country, but they are evidence of manipulation to increase voter turnout. Manipulation of voter lists (reducing the number of registered voters) had the same purpose.

 

For example, tabulation in Hrodna underwent serious doctoring by the commissions. At different polling stations from 100 to 500 votes were added to the final records. Such facts were registered by observers at polling stations 31, 32 of Hrodna-Paunochnaya district, polling stations 5, 10, 19 of Hrodna Centralnaya district, and polling station 30 in Hrodna-Zaniomanskaya district. At polling station 26 of that district, the total number of voters was understated by about 90 people. PEC chairman Siarhei Piatrou explained that many voters were drafted by the military, while many others left for work or on business trips. On Saturday evening the list of voters at that polling station included 2,262 people, and on Sunday it was reduced to 2,178 voters.

 

Observers estimated that in some precincts, the voter turnout was 45-47%. Observers repeatedly addressed the prosecuting authorities and the CEC with requests to examine the situation in conjunction with the discrepancies between the official and the observers’ figures of voter turnout.  

 

Alina Skrabunova addressed the CEC with the request not to recognize the voting results at precinct 48 of Shklou district 90. In her response, Lidia Yarmoshyna said that according to the Electoral Code, the election results, including their validity, were established at the level of a district, and not at the level of a precinct. In addition, she pointed out, visual count of voter turnout did not lead to any legal consequences, since under paragraphs 5 and 6 of Article 55 of the EC the number of voters who received ballots is specified in the list of voters, and the number of voters who participated in the vote is established by the number of ballot papers found in the ballot box. Alina Skrabunova indicated that the ballot boxes for different types of voting had not been counted separately. However, the CEC claimed that could indicate an abuse of procedure and not the voters’ will. Thus, visual counting of votes has no legal value, because such a procedure is not envisaged by the electoral legislation.

 

At polling station 76 in Salihorsk, the list of voters was reduced by 381 people during the night from 22 to 23 September. Salihorsk rayon prosecutor V. Belchyn explained that "commission members update voter lists prior to each round of voting." The official reaction to the discrepancy between the PEC and observers’ figures, which exceeded 200 votes, was that the BHC observer "was not always present at the polling station”.

 

Just as in previous elections, tabulation of voting results on the district level remained closed to observers. The observers registered with the DEC were not always able to observe the DEC receiving records of voting results and processed ballot papers. 77% could not look through the records received from the PECs while 22% could. DECs and the CEC made oral and written references to Article 82 of the EC, which says that the election results are established at DEC meetings, entered in the records signed by DEC chairman, deputy chairman, secretary and DEC members, and immediately sent to the CEC.

 

Under Article 13 of EC observers are entitled to attend meetings of relevant commissions and look through the records. According to the official position of the CEC, observers are entitled to attend only the meetings, at which the DEC confirms the results of the election in a district. These meetings usually take place on the fifth day after the elections. Due to this  interpretation of the EC by the election organizers, observers cannot observe the procedure when DECs receive ballot papers and vote count records from PECs and tabulate and establish the voting results in a district in-between the meetings.

 

Under Article 55 of the EC and the CEC manual for PECs, copies of the records of voting results, as well as minutes of PEC meetings, reflecting the results of the separate vote count should be passed to the bodies that formed the commissions (executive committees and rayon administrations in cities). As the EC does not directly regulate that observers are entitled to see these papers, observers had no access to them.  Due to this, the election regulation stipulating for mandatory posting of results from a separate vote count was not carried out to its full potential.

 

DECs receive records and ballot papers from PECs in the buildings of the local executive authorities. During the entire election process Baranavichy-Zakhodniaya DEC 5 was located at Savetskaya Street, 79 office 100. However, on 23 September, it moved to the building of the city executive committee together with DEC 6.

 

Homel-Yubileynaya DEC 31 received records of the voting results not at its regular location at Kirava Street, 34, but in the building of Chyhunachny rayon administration of Homel. As a rule, police officers guarded the entrances to the buildings of local executive committees and did not allow observers to enter the buildings.

 

These circumstances indicate serious violations of the principle of independence of election commissions from local executive authorities and provide opportunities for the executive “vertical” control of election commissions.

 

Observation of the vote count and the establishment of the voting results in this election once again clearly identified the main areas of challenge in the current electoral law: lack of detailed procedures of direct counting of ballots by PECs, lack of data on the results of the separate vote count in the record of voting results and the unavailability of this information to observers, unavailability of voter lists for examination, unfulfilled EC requirement to hand out certified copies of records of voting results to observers, and the prohibition of observers registered at DECs to attend DEC sessions at which they receive the records and ballots from PEC and establish voting results in a constituency.

 

These systemic problems of electoral legislation create wide opportunities for manipulation with election results and voter turnout, making the process of vote counting and establishing the voting results non-transparent and closed for observation. This contradicts the fundamental principles of free and democratic elections and seriously undermines the credibility of the election results and the electoral process as a whole.

 

According to the Central Election Commission, 7,030,430 voters were included in the lists of citizens eligible to take part in the elections; 5,245,459 voters took part in the election, or 74.61% of the total number of voters on voter lists. 

 

Elections were recognized valid in all districts. 109 MPs were elected in the first round. The candidate who ran in Homel-Navabelitskaya district 36 (which was a single-candidate district), failed to collect the required number of votes; repeated election will be held there.

 

On September 23, 2012, two international observation missions: ODIHR / OSCE mission and the mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, as well as observer groups of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly presented their preliminary conclusions on the results of the observation.

 

In particular, the OSCE mission pointed out in preliminary conclusions that “Observers were not given a meaningful opportunity to observe the count and evaluated the process negatively in a significant number of polling stations observed. The continued lack of properly delineated counting procedures meant that an honest count, as required by paragraph 7.4 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document, could not be guaranteed.”[14]

 

The mission of the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly stated that the organization and conduct of the parliamentary elections "met the general democratic principles of free and fair elections, described in the Constitution and the electoral laws of the Republic of Belarus." [15] At the same time, the CIS mission stated that "inaccuracy in the wording of some provisions in the Electoral Code opens possibility for different interpretations of a number of legislative norms."[16]

 

IX.         Complaints and Appeals

During the election over 525 complaints and appeals were filed. There were 117 complaints about the decisions of the local executive and administrative bodies on creation of DECs and PECs, indicating ungrounded exclusion of opposition political parties and public association representatives from DEC and PEC membership. Some complaints were not considered because of the missed three-day deadline set up by the Electoral Code. None of the complaints were satisfied.

 

The courts ignored the arguments of the discriminatory approach by the local executive bodies in creation of PECs referring to the fact that the procedure of forming election commissions had been carried out without any formal violations. To a greater extent this is grounded in the fact that the Electoral Code lacks criteria for selection of representatives to election commissions.

 

During court hearings of the appeals, representatives of the bodies that created the commissions claimed that members of the oppositional political parties had not been included in commissions because some of them had criminal or administrative records, while others had been jobless (for instance, see judgment of Kastrychnitski court of Mahiliou on appeal of Mahiliou regional organization of BPF “Adradzhennie” NGO). Another reason for non-inclusion in the commissions was formal mistakes or inaccuracies in the nomination documents. Yet, similar inaccuracies made by pro-governmental organizations or by self-nominees were treated differently. For instance, Marharyta Bialiayeva, nominated by a group of citizens, was in the list of members of PEC 27 of Babruisk rural district 80. There was a remark made in pencil near her name, indicating that some documents would be presented later.

 

This practice had already been approved by the Central Election Commission during the presidential elections in 2010 as evidenced by the response of the Central Election Commission to the complaint filed by BHC observer Pavel Levinau about violations during the creation of PEC 35 of Vitebsk-Chkalauskaya district 18. In particular, the Central Election Commission stated that "minor inaccuracies in the documents cannot be grounds for invalidating nomination of these persons, as representatives of workers collectives and public associations were nominated in a legitimate manner."

 

A similar conclusion was made by the prosecutor’s office of Vitebsk region in response to Pavel Levinau’s complaint about the creation of DEC of Vitebsk – Chkalauskaya district 18. Acting Prosecutor of Vitebsk region, A. Chadziuk, pointed out that "some inaccuracies in filling in documents about the place of voters’ residence, are not significant and do not affect the validity of the decision." However, experience shows that similar inaccuracies made by independent candidates have always led to sanctions against these candidates.

 

In general, an analysis of court decisions of the complaints about forming election commissions shows that the courts practically did not consider the disputes about the grounds for inclusion or non-inclusion of people in election commissions, but limited themselves to exploration of whether formal violations had been made during the creation of election commissions.

 

This conclusion can also be drawn from the response of the deputy chairman of the Supreme Court of Belarus A. Zabara to a supervisory appeal on one of the decisions on formation of election commissions. In particular, he pointed out that "inclusion of a person in a commission is under the exclusive competence of the bodies forming the commission".

 

There were 3 complaints filed on the stage of initiative group registration – practically all initiative groups were registered.

 

At the signature collection stage 18 complaints were filed (compared with submission of over 50 complaints during the presidential election in 2010). The insignificant number of filed complaints can be explained by the fact that only a few candidates used signature collection, mainly with the purpose to draw attention to their programs. The main actors of the election campaign – the political parties – nominated their representatives by decisions of their governing bodies.

 

57 complaints were submitted to the Central Election Commission about the DEC decisions to deny registration to candidates. Among them, 11 complaints were satisfied. 19 complaints against CEC decision in support of DEC decisions of non-registration were filed at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled to satisfy 1 complaint and register the applicant (Viktar Tsiareshchanka) as a candidate.

 

When hearing the complaint of Siarhei Parsiukevich, the Supreme Court cited Part 16 of Article 61 of the Electoral Code, claiming that a person who was not a member of the initiative group did not have the right to fill in the signature forms. This decision contradicts the Ruling of the Central Election Commission establishing that a voter’s data can be entered by either a voter or another person at voter’s request. In its decision the Supreme Court reveals obvious illegitimacy of the above-mentioned CEC Ruling but abstains from giving any assessment of this fact.

 

The Central Commission grounded its denial of registration to Alexander Solap in the fact that he did not meet the moral and ethical requirements (the contender had two convictions in his criminal record). However, according to the law, expunged convictions cannot be an obstacle for registration as a parliamentary candidate. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Central Election Commission. This approach is clearly contrary to the law, as under Article 99 of the Criminal Code, expungement of the criminal record annuls the legal effects of criminal responsibility.

 

At the campaigning stage over 113 complaints were filed, which mainly dealt with the following problems: censorship of candidates’ programs in mass media, refusal of mass media to air candidates’ speeches, prohibition of pickets advocating boycott of the election, and refusals to provide premises for meetings with voters.

 

200 complaints concerning early voting, voting on Election Day and the vote count were submitted on Election Day. The majority of the complaints dealt with the violations of the voting procedures provided by the EC: interference of unauthorized persons in the activities of the PEC, marking the ballot papers by the members of the PEC, issuance of more than one ballot paper to one person, etc. Apart from that, some of the complaints were submitted regarding the obstacles the observers encountered in their observation activities at the polling stations. Complaints were not submitted following each recorded violation. In some cases, the observers of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign, as well as participants of the election, limited themselves to reporting violations to the media.

31 complaints were filed about violations made during vote count. None were satisfied.

On October 5 the CEC considered two appeals about the election results: the appeal of Uladzimir Siakerka about the election results at Homel-Centralnaya district 33, and the аppeal of Ihar Sluchak at Homel-Savetskaya district 34, and refused to satisfy them. The decisions were not appealed at the Supreme Court, as the law does not provide for such a possibility. In our opinion, this contradicts the constitution of Belarus.

 

The Central Election Commission did not receive any other complaints.

Analyzing the hearings of complaints and appeals filed by participants of the election campaign, we conclude that the procedure for appealing violations of electoral rights remains ineffective and is not met with an effective judicial or administrative remedy. That is why many interested persons do not see the point in appealing violations of the electoral process.  

 

As was the case in previous election campaigns, the prosecution bodies that are supposed to supervise the legislative execution during elections practically avoided examination of the disputable situations and, in the majority of cases, forwarded the complaints to election commissions for consideration.

 

X.             Recommendations

The 2010 amendments to the Electoral Code did not take into account the majority of recommendations made by the OSCE and the Venice commission as a result of monitoring the previous election campaigns, including the parliamentary election of 2008.

 

The majority of these recommendations are still relevant. This election demonstrated that it is impossible to ensure the compliance of the election procedures with international standards without detailed regulation of the procedures for forming election commissions, voting, and vote count. The election campaign also demonstrated the necessity to ensure real equality of candidates in the area of access to mass media and extension of observers’ rights.

 

Introduction of the suggested recommendations to the electoral legislation of Belarus and their consistent implementation will bring the elections close to the international standards and increase trust in the election results for both the citizens of Belarus and the international community.

 

Election Commissions

 

The Electoral Code should contain a standard that guarantees the presence of representatives of the opposition parties who nominate their candidates in election commissions. It is necessary to ensure that political parties participating in the election campaign have the right to delegate one representative to each of the territorial, district and precinct election commissions. Only in the case when a political party fails to exercise that right, local administrative and executive bodies may fill the vacant places in election commissions under the procedure established by the law. Similarly, the priority right to nominate their representatives to the election commissions should be provided to presidential candidates. These changes would correspond to the priority of political parties in facilitating identification and expression of the political will of the citizens (part 1 of Article 5 of the Constitution).

 

In case of competition for membership in election commission, it should be created in its maximum size as set in the Electoral Code. In addition, the law should define the criteria for candidates to the electoral commissions, which would reduce the possibility of any biased selection and could be assessed by court when considering relevant complaints. When forming electoral commissions, in case of competition, each candidate should be discussed separately in the presence of independent observers.

 

Candidate Registration

 

It is necessary to rule out the opportunity to use administrative resources in signature collection, in particular, to prohibit signature collection by people who are not members of initiative groups. In addition, observers should have the right to be present at checking signatures in support of candidate nomination. The experience of the election campaign shows that even experts have difficulties in determining who had written the date of a signature in a signature list. Therefore, the requirement that only voters should put a date next to their signature should be removed.

 

Voter Lists

 

A national unified voter register is needed for increasing transparency and accountability of the process of voter registration. It must be placed on the Internet and be available to all interested parties. Citizens and observers, including candidates’ proxies, media representatives and international observers should be given full access to the voter lists. Every citizen should have the right to examine voter lists at a polling station before the beginning of the voting. Also, observers should be able to familiarize themselves with lists of voters during the voting. The number of voters registered at a polling station should be announced by the election commission both prior to and at the end of the voting process.

 

Election Funding

 

The results of forming and using candidate election funds demonstrated the necessity to extend the time period for their creation.  Persons who intend to run for the president’s office, as well as political parties that decided to nominate their candidates, should be allowed to form election funds from the date an election is announced. In case candidates are not registered the funds are to be returned to donors.

It is recommended to remove the upper threshold of the election fund.

 

Election Campaigning

 

The law envisages that the campaigning stage of the election lasts for no more than one month. Such a short period of campaigning limits candidates’ chances for their promotion, and citizens’ ability to obtain information about candidates and their platforms. We suggest that that the duration of the campaign period be increased by at least another two weeks by reducing the previous stages of the election. Also, entities that place political advertising should be exempt from liability for the content of advertising presented by candidates or political parties.

It is also necessary to return the practice of holding debates on radio and television, and to ban censorship of candidates’ speeches and their programs.

 

Appealing election decisions in court  

 

The EC envisages a limited list of grounds for submitting appeals to courts. It is necessary to allow appeals of any decisions of election commissions and other government agencies. In particular this applies to CEC rulings that confirm election results and election results in separate precincts, territories and districts.

 

Early Voting

 

The early voting procedure established in the EC allows the authorities to carry out all sorts of manipulation. We propose that a complete abolition of early voting be considered in favor of a procedure that allows voters to vote at other polling stations.

 

If early voting is not canceled, we propose that the early voting period be reduced to two days, and criteria be introduced to entitle voters to vote early. Such criteria must be on grounds  clearly showing that it is impossible for a voter to vote on Election Day (for example, foreign trips, or long domestic trips, etc.).

 

The law should also describe in detail the procedures for storage of ballot boxes during the early voting and sealing the room where ballot boxes are kept.

 

It is necessary to prevent the presence of unauthorized persons, including police officers, in voting premises and rooms where ballot boxes, ballots and other election materials are stored.

 

Observers should be entitled to be present at voting premises beyond working hours (lunch break, etc.) if commission members remain there.

 

All PECs should be provided with a solid transparent ballot box with the number of the polling station and with plastic tape for sealing.

 

Mobile Voting

 

We propose that only a written statement about an individual’s inability to vote at a polling station, filed with a PEC (no later than the day of voting), should entitle voters to vote at home.

 

Vote Count

 

Vote count procedures are not transparent. One of the main reasons is the lack of details in the description of the procedure of vote count in the EC. The following principles of vote count procedures should be established in the law:

Counting of votes should be done publicly in the presence of observers, giving them the opportunity to see every ballot paper and hear the announcement for whom the vote is cast. Vote count should be done by one commission member who announces the result and shows each ballot to all PEC members and observers.

Counting should be done separately for each ballot box, and the results of such a separate vote count should be reflected in the record of voting results. 

 

Observers and other persons who are legitimately present at a polling station during the vote count should have the right to make audio and video recording of the work of the election commission until the results are announced and the final record is posted for the public.

A copy of the final record, certified by chairman and secretary of precinct commission and stamped, should be issued at the request of an observer.

We propose that observers registered in territorial election commissions and candidates’ proxies be allowed to attend and observe the procedures for transfer of ballot papers and reports of voting results from polling stations to territorial commissions. Observers and
candidates’ proies should have the right to receive (or produce) copies of summary charts of voting results in a precinct and district, certified by the chairman of a relevant election commission.

 

Election Observation

 

Observer’ rights should be extended in order to raise confidence in the institution of elections in Belarus.

 

Observers should be free to examine the materials for nomination to election commissions, voter lists, as well as storage conditions of ballot papers and ballot boxes during the early voting period.

 

The vote count procedure should be made more transparent, so that observers could witness that every ballot paper was counted for this or that candidate. It is necessary to determine the right to appeal, also in court, any action that may affect the results of elections, as well as to make a detailed description of appealing procedures and deadlines.

 

For unambiguous application of the legal provisions on observers’ rights, Article 13 of the EC should fix the principle of the theory of law that the list of observers’ rights is exemplary, while the list of prohibitions is exhaustive.


[1] Resolution 21 of 19.06.2012 "About  ratification of the order of activity of foreign (international) observers in the course of preparation and conduct of elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the fifth convocation."

[2] Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus. February 11, 2000 # 370-3. Changes and amendments: Law of the Republic of Belarus # 99-3, of January 4, 2010; and Law of the Republic of Belarus # 309-3 of November 8, 2011.

[3] Corpus of electoral statistics, "Election of President of the Republic of Belarus  in 2010." Access mode: http://www.rec.gov.by/Elections-PRB.

[4] Information on nomination of representatives to the precinct election commission on elections of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the fifth convocation. Access mode: http://www.rec.gov.by/Elections-PPNS5-Electoral.

[5] Expert opinion about non-registration of initiative groups of M. Statkevich and A. Mikhalevich: http://spring96.org/be/news/55169

[6] Ruling #23 of June 19, 2012 “About clarification of application of the provisions of the Electoral Code of Belarus establishing the procedure of nomination of candidates through signature collection during the election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the fifth convocation”; Ruling #35 of July 5, 2012 “About clarification of application of the provisions of the Electoral Code of Belarus describing the procedure of declaring income and property of persons nominated as candidates to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the fifth convocation”.

[7] Ruling # 33 of July 5, 2012 “Establishing the Ruling about the procedure of using mass media in during preparation and conduct of the election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the fifth convocation”; Ruling # 34 of July 5, 2012 “About Supervisory Council for control over compliance with the rules and regulations of election campaigning in mass media”; Ruling # 122 of September 5, 2012 “About clarification of application of the provisions of the Electoral Code of Belarus envisaging debates of candidates to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the fifth convocation”, etc.

[8] “Speeches of four candidates do not comply with the Electoral Code of Belarus“ – BELTA, 28.08.2012. Access: http://www.belta.by/ru/all_news/politics/Vystuplenija-chetyrex-kandidatov-v-deputaty-ne-sootvetstvujut-Izbiratelnomu-kodeksu-Belarusi---TsIK_i_606655.html.

[9] “Majority of candidates do not intend to take part in debates” – BELTA, 28.08.2012. Access: http://www.belta.by/ru/all_news/politics/Bolshinstvo-kandidatov-v-deputaty-Belarusi-ne-namereny-uchastvovat-v-debatax---Lozovik_i_606703.html.

[10] About Implementation of Candidates’ Right to Campaign on State TV, Radio and Mass Media. Access: http://elections2012.spring96.org/en/news/56675

 

[11] Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the  Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, 29 June, 1990

 

[12] Data of 719 reports (from polling stations where observers managed to receive PEC data about the number of those who have cast their votes), summed up from the whole period of early voting.

[13] Manual for members of precinct election commissions. Access: http://www.rec.gov.by/Elections-PP5.

[14] http://www.osce.org/odihr/93975

[15] Conclusions of the Observation Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Member States of the Commonwealth of the Independent States about the election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the fifth convocation. http://rec.gov.by/sites/default/files/pdf/Elections-PPNS5-Obs_Itog1.pdf.

[16] Ib.


 

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