Boycott of elections: Law and practice in CIS countries
On July 15, Mikalai Lazavik, Secretary of the Central Election Commission of Belarus, once again explained the position of the CEC concerning the right to boycott the elections. He cited the following reason why the Belarusian electoral legislation features a ban on election boycott and calls for a boycott: “In accordance with the Convention (Convention "On Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in CIS countries" – Ed.), boycott is prohibited. Moreover, the prohibition applies both to the speeches of the candidates and to all citizens. That is, if the state allocates huge amounts of money for the organization and preparation of the elections, citizens are prohibited to campaign for undermining this important event.”
I will not repeat the arguments out forward in a detailed analysis of Valiantsin Stefanovich, but rather focus on how other countries that have ratified the CIS Convention implement international agreements.
Republic Of Armenia
The electoral legislation in Armenia has no provisions or regulations forcing citizens or political parties to participate in elections. Citizens are free to both participate in the elections and not to participate: they can go to the polling station, take a ballot and never use it. It is only prohibited to take the ballot outside the polling station.
Key political parties in Armenia have campaigned for electoral boycott, calling on citizens not to participate in elections. Such calls are an inalienable right of the political actors of the country and have never resulted in any liability.
Republic Of Moldova
In Moldova, there is no legal prohibition of a boycott of the elections. For example, in 2010 there was a national referendum on amendments to the Constitution, in which the Communist Party, the Social-Political Movement "Equality" and the Social Democratic Party campaigned to boycott the vote, which was appealed to the CEC by other political actors. However, in its decision the CEC confirmed that the appeals of these parties to the citizens not to participate in the referendum, as well as in elections at all levels, is their political right.
Republic Of Kazakhstan
The electoral legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan and that of the Republic of Belarus are very similar. The Constitutional Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan "On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan" does not include responsibility for the calls for a boycott.
A large number of opposition parties in Kazakhstan have campaigned for a boycott of elections. These campaigns are carried out publicly, including through the media and through distribution of printed materials, as well as rallies and pickets. These campaigns have been carried out by different political forces during all presidential election campaigns in Kazakhstan, for example, during the regular and early presidential elections in 2011. Then, the Central Election Commission of Kazakhstan asked the citizens not to succumb to calls to boycott the early elections, calling them provocations, providing the following comments on the boycott: “Voting is the decision of each voter, but yielding to such provocative actions and sacrificing one’s constitutional right to vote is simply an insult for any person, any voter.”
Despite the fact that the CEC expressed not only political, but also emotional assessment of the boycott campaign, the legislation of Kazakhstan does not provide for liability for such calls, and none of the campaigners for the boycott was punished.
The electoral legislation of the Russian Federation consists of a large number of regulations governing the elections of different levels. None of them contains a ban on calls for a boycott of the elections.
Since the electoral law is based on the principle “everything which is not forbidden is allowed”, a practice of calls for a boycott is common among some of the political actors in Russia. Some State Duma members have called for a boycott of the municipal elections in the Russian Federation. It should be noted that in Russia there is no turnout threshold for elections to be valid, and therefore calls for a boycott have little practical meaning.
The electoral laws of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic Tajikistan do not contain prohibition of electoral boycott. When political actors in these countries campaigned for a boycott of the elections, it never entailed bringing them to justice.
The Republic of Azerbaijan is not party to the CIS Convention "On Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in CIS countries", but in its legislation supports the basic approach contained in it concerning the calls for a boycott. In general, the Electoral Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan can be considered the most progressive act in the CIS in terms of the right to boycott. It is directly guaranteed in section 11.2, Art. 11 of the Code: “Citizens, political parties, campaign groups in elections (referendums) have the right to conduct pre-election (pre-referendum) campaigning in the form of appeals to voters to participate or not to participate in elections (referendums), to vote for or against the registered candidate, political party or a bloc of political parties and to vote for or against the issue submitted to a referendum, in the forms and with the methods legally possible.”
Thus, Belarus is the only CIS country that introduced a direct legislative ban on the right to boycott the elections, and has provided for administrative responsibility for the calls for a boycott.
The Convention prohibit acts of violence aimed at disrupting, cancelling, rejecting electoral procedures, which is provided for by Article 6, but obliges State Parties to guarantee a voluntary non-participation in the elections. Moreover, the CIS countries either in no way reflect in their electoral law the issue of boycotting the elections, or directly guarantee this form of campaigning. None of these countries provides for responsibility for election boycott campaigns.
This indicates that all the signatories of the Convention, except for Belarus, share the same understanding of the provision of section 8, Article 9 of the Convention, which directly allows calls for a boycott.