Report on the results of monitoring the nomination and registration of candidates for President of the Republic of Belarus
Observation of the election of the President of Belarus is carried out by activists of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center "Viasna" in the framework of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections".
The stage of the nomination and registration of candidates for President of the Republic of Belarus includes the designation of places prohibited for picketing in order to collect signatures in support of nomination of candidates; the registration of initiative groups collecting signatures in support of the nomination of candidates; the verification of the signatures; and the registration of candidates for the President of the Republic Belarus. These events were held within the terms defined by the calendar schedule of the CEC no later than July 17 - from 6 to 15 September 2015.
Local authorities designated the places banned for the pickets to collect signatures in support of the nomination of candidates. The appropriate decisions of the executive committees didn't significantly limit the ability of the electoral teams in public places. However, many bans of the local authorities were not caused by the requirements of security and public order, but arbitrarily limited the rights of participants of the electoral process.
Documents for registration were filed by 15 initiative groups of citizens established for the nomination of presidential candidates. CEC registered eight initiative groups (those of A. Lukashenka, S. Kaliakin, S. Haidukevich, T. Karatkevich, A. Liabedzka, Zh. Ramanava, U. Tsiareshchanka and M. Ulakhovich).
Ti get its candidate registered, an initiative group was to collect at least 100,000 signatures in his support by August 21. The collection of signatures for the nomination of A. Lukashenka as a presidential candidate was accompanied by a active use of the administrative resources: signatures were collected in the workplaces, on the territories of enterprises and institutions, often with the direct involvement of their management.
The coverage of the collection of signatures in the state-run media, including local ones, was one-sided, and in some cases could be characterized as campaigning for the nomination and election of the incumbent president.
Most observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", accredited at the district and city district election commissions, were denied the opportunity to observe the procedure of verification of the signatures passed to the commissions by the initiative groups of the potential candidates. The total non-transparency of the verification procedure causes mistrust in its results.
The documents for their registration as presidential candidates were filed by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Tatsiana Karatkevich, Siarhei Haidukevich, Mikalai Ulakhovich, Zhana Ramanouskaya and Viktar Tsiareshchanka. A. Lukashenka, T. Karatkevich, S. Haidukevich and M. Ulakhovich were registered as presidential candidates of the Republic of Belarus.
DESIGNATION OF PLACES PROHIBITED FOR PICKETS TO COLLECT SIGNATURES
The rulings of the local executive authorities to determine the places prohibited for picketing in order to collect citizens' signatures weren't significantly different from the rulings that were taken during the previous presidential election campaign.
A deterioration of the conditions for the signature collection was observed in the Belarusian capital. Ruling No. 1842 of the Minsk City Executive Committee, dated July 9, 2015, prohibited to collect signatures at Pryvakzaĺnaja, Dziaržaŭnaha Sciaha and Jakub Kolas squares. However, these squares weren't mentioned in the analogical ruling in 2010.
In addition to the traditionally prohibited places, the Salihorsk City Executive Committee imposed a ban on collecting signatures near the monuments of architecture, history, culture and military graves. In Svietlahorsk, the area near the executive committee, police and prosecutor's office, at which it was prohibited to collect signatures, was increased to 200 meters, whereas in Barysaŭ it was, on the contrary, decreased to 20-50 meters. Observers also reported about an increase in the number of places for collecting signatures in Babruisk, Navapolacsk, Hrodna, Brest anf Žodzina.
The rulings of the executive committees didn't significantly limit the opportunities for collecting signatures by the initiative groups in public places. However, many restrictions, imposed by the local authorities weren't dictated by requirements of security and public order, which unduly limits the rights of participants in the electoral process. Local authorities actually demonstrated a lack of a unified approach to the rights of participants in the electoral process: some have tried to expand them, whereas others either limited them or left unchanged.
REGISTRATION OF INITIATIVE GROUPS
The CEC received documents for registration of 15 initiative groups of citizens for nomination of presidential candidates (A. Lukashenka, S. Kaliakin, S. Haidukevich A. Konavets, T. Karatkevich, A. Liabedka, M. Statkevich, Zh. Ramanava, I. Pershyna, S, Zablotski, T. Birukova, V. Tsiareshchanka, M. Ulakhovich, A. Yudayeu and V. Talmachou). The decision on registration was made towards eight initiative groups (those of A. Lukashenka, S. Kaliakin, S. Haidukevich, T. Karatkevich, A. Liabedzka, Zh. Ramanava, . Tsiareshchanka and M. Ulakhovich). Refusals to register initiative groups are justified by the electoral legislation.
The initiative group of political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich was denied registration as the person who was nominated as a presidential candidate, didn't meet a constitutional criterion (a person who is kept in a correctional facility is disfranchised). Moreover, the CEC established that the application for registration of the initiative group of Mr. Statkevich was filed and signed by Maryna Adamovich, which violates Art. 61, part 2 of the Electoral Code (the application must be signed by the person nominated for candidate).
According to the EC, an initiative group must have at least 100 people. The initiative group of Lukashenka included 10,577 people. The second largest group was that of Siarhei Haidukevich – 2,481 people. The rules of the EC do not require the confirmation of a person's consent to be included in an initiative group, which gives opportunities for arbitrary inclusion of people in the lists of the initiative groups.
COLLECTION OF SIGNATURES OF ELECTORS IN SUPPORT OF NOMINATION OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
The collection of signatures was carried out by the initiative groups both by paying visits to electors' apartments and holding street pickets in the places, where they weren't prohibited by the local authorities.
The observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" note that the authorities did not put significant restrictions on the collection of signatures, but the role of the executive vertical of power and the administration of public enterprises in the electoral process was still very significant.
The administrative resources were used actively in collecting signatures for the incumbent. In many cases the collection of signatures in support of A. Lukashenka was conducted during working hours on the territory of enterprises and institutions, with the direct participation of representatives of the administration. It was carried out not only by the members of his initiative group, but also by outsiders. There were also instances of pressure on the workers.
July 28, the initiative group of A. Lukashenka collected signatures during working hours at the enterprise “Homieĺkabieĺ”. Before that, the administration told the workers to come to the checkpoint with their passports. Some workers openly expressed their dissatisfaction. Masters
of the workshops threatened that the employment contracts would not be extended for those who didn't sign in support of A. Lukashenka. As a result, most of the workers obeyed.
August 4, signatures were collected during the working hours at branch №1 of the Homieĺ City Polyclinic. The administration ordered the staff of the polyclinic to come to the assembly hall with their passports from 12 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the hall, there was a woman who introduced herself as a member of the initiative group of A. Lukashenka.
Employees of school №5 in Kryčaŭ, Kryčaŭ State Vocational College of Agronomy" and Kryčaŭ Rubber Goods Factory were also ordered to bring passports and sign. The same was done by the administration of the Mahilioŭ named after S. Kirov, Mahilioŭ Regional diagnostic and treatment center and others. Such facts of administrative pressure on the staff were reported by observers from Maladziečna, Niasviž, Baranavičy. The case of "signature collection" organized by the administration of Brest Electromechanical Plant received a wide coverage in the media.
We should remind that during the presidential election campaign in 2010 the CEC so-called "assistant members of the initiative group" to participate in the so-called filling the subscription lists, though such status is not provided by the current Electoral Code. In practice, such a loose interpretation of the order of collection of voter signatures provided the basis for a massive use of administrative resources in favor of the incumbent.
August 5, an unauthorized persons, "assistant member of the initiative group" of A. Lukashenka M. Marozava was collecting signatures at an electoral picket in Brest. In the presence of an observer, she obtained a signature from the citizen L. Karotsich. The observer also noted that members of the initiative group of A. Lukashenka were using the brochure "Memo to assistant member of the initiative group", published in a large circulation and containing no imprint. According to a member of the initiative group of A. Lukashenka Hanna Pishchyk, she got the brochure from the head of the ideology department of the Maskoŭski District Executive Committee of Brest.
the Moscow district of Brest.
It should be noted that the para. 8 of Resolution No. 18, adopted by the Central Commission on July 1, 2015 allowed putting the information about an elector in graphs 1-5 of the signature sheet (the personal information of an elector) by other persons on the elector's request, including those who weren't members of initiative groups. This provision is contrary to Art. 61 of the EC, which provides for the filling of the signature sheets only by members of initiative groups and directly states that if signatures of electors were collected by a person who is not a member of the initiative group, or if the signature sheets wasn't certified by the member of the initiative group, or was certified by another member of the initiative group who actually didn't collect signatures, all signatures in the signature sheet must be deemed invalid (Art 61., part 16, para. 8 of the EC).
The majority of reports of citizens about coercion during the collection of signatures for the nomination of Aliaksandr Lukashenka and other violations are anonymous. This indicates a high level of public fear and low public confidence in the public authorities intended to protect their legitimate rights and interests. Meanwhile, the news reports disseminated by state media on behalf of the CEC Chair emphasize the lack of complaints about the electoral process.
State media publish many articles praising the incumbent. For example, the newspaper of the Brest region published in its front page a long article entitled "President Expects Improvement in 2016", reporting about a working visit of the President. The activities of the initiative group of A. Lukashenka are regularly covered, too. The district state-run newspapers mainly reprint articles of the news agency BelTA about the election campaign, as well statements of the CEC leadership.
VERIFICATION OF SIGNATURES OF ELECTORS
Territorial election commissions were reluctant to contact with observers, virtually everywhere the latter ones were not allowed to attend the reception and verification of signature sheets. This was reported by observers at the Žodzina City TEC, Smarhoń District TEC, Baranavičy District TEC, Maladziečna District TEC, Hlusk District TEC, Biaroza District TEC, the TECs of the city districts of Mahilioŭ, Brest, Homieĺ, Viciebsk. Although some of them, for example, the Rečyca and Svietlahorsk TECs, allowed observers to the verification procedure, most TECs helf the verification of signatures behind the closed doors.
An observer of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" attended a sitting of the Mahilioŭ Regional TEC on September 2. According to him, after considering the questions on the agenda, i.e. the announcement of the results of verification of signatures, the commission removed journalists and observers and continued its work behind closed doors.
The commissions explained the non-admission of observers by saying that the verification of signatures was a “working process”, whereas observers had the right to be present only at the sittings. Thus, the real activities of the commissions remained virtually opaque.
August 22, the observvers at the Maladziečna TEC Edvard Balanchuk and Ales Kaputski noticed irregularities in the signature sheets for Siarhei Haidukevich and Mikalai Ulakhovich that weren't verified by the commission. In particular, the signature sheets contained signatures of citizens from other districts, signatures of persons who weren't citizens, but just had residence permit. In some sheets, the dates were put in one hands. The graphical resemblance of the electors' signatures raised doubts in their authenticity, too. However, the observers weren't allowed to study the signature sheets, chosen for verification. As a result, the observers appealed to the Maladziečna district prosecutor regarding violation of electoral legislation in the part of the filling of signature sheets.
In his reply No. 186ž-15 of August 31, 2015, prosecutor U. Dubouski answers that the observers could appeal to the Minsk Regional Election Commission with their claims to the verification of signatures. Thus, the Maladziečna District Prosecutor's Office evaded from the prosecutorial supervision.
According to the results of the verification of signatures, published by the CEC, the number of valid signatures in support of Aliaksandr Lukashenka os 1,753,380 (1,761,145 were passed to election commissions), for Mikalai Ulakhovich – 149,819 (159,805 passed), for Siarhei Haidukevich – 139, 877 (141,842 passed) and for Tatsiana Karatkevich – 105,278 (107,299 passed). The initiative group of Viktar Tsiareshchanka passed 130,404 signatures for verification, but only 6,699 were found valid.
The rules of verification of signatures are determined by Art. 67 of the EC. Verification of signatures of voters is exercised by TECs. At least 20% of the number of signatures, necessary for registering a candidate for presidency, need to be checked. If a signature sheet contains signatures of the electors who don't reside on the territory of the appropriate election constituency, these signatures aren't counted and aren't verified. If the number of invalid signatures of electors constitutes more than 15% of the number of checked signatures, other 15% of the number of signatures required for registration of a candidate need to be checked.
If the total number of invalid signatures of voters detected during the inspections is more than 15% of the total number of verified signatures in signature sheets, further verification of the signatures in the signature lists is terminated.
Analysts of "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" note that this procedure requires an accurate verification of signatures to ensure the principle of random selection of signatures for verification. Otherwise, there appear opportunities for manipulating the selection for wrongful denial of registration of a candidate, or vice versa – for the illegal registration of a candidate. That's why the transparency of the selection of the signature sheets and their verification, as well as the ability of observers, potential candidates and representatives of initiative groups to control these procedures, is crucially important.
It is also worth noting that invalidation of more than 15% of the selected signatures deprives a contender of the right to run, and the people who nominated him/her by their signatures, are deprived of the right to have their candidate, even if the number of valid signatures would exceed 100,000.
REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES FOR PRESIDENT OF BELARUS
September 10, 2015 the Central Election Commission held a sitting for registration of candidates for President of the Republic of Belarus. The heads of the regional election commissions and the Minsk City Election Commission reported about the results of the collection of signatures in support of the nomination of presidential candidates. They voiced the information about the number of delivered signatures, their verification and the number of the signatures that were found valid. All speakers noted serious deficiencies in the signatures sheets in support of U. Tsiareshchanka.
At the request of L. Yarmoshyna and in connection with the statement of the Belarusian Popular Front party about violations by the initiative group of A. Lukashenka of legislation while collecting signatures, received by the CEC the previous day, heads of the election commissions also reported about the consideration of reports about violations of legislation by the initiative group of A. Lukashenka. According to them, all information, presented in the BPF appeal, was disproved by the results of their inspections. They stated that the majority of the reports about violations of the order of collection of signatures were anonymous and the few complaints proved to be unfounded.
The CEC also considered the applications of Zh. Ramanava and U. Tsiareshchanka and decided not to register these persons as presidential candidates.
As a result of the collection of signatures and examination of the documents that were submitted by the potential candidates S. Haidukevich, T. Karatkevich, M. Ulakhovich and A. Lukashenka, the CEC concluded that these four persons met all requirements and registered them as presidential candidates. As it was found a s a result of an inspection, held by the CEC, the income and asset declarations of Mr. Haidukevich and his wife contained errors resulting from non-inclusion of certain sums as income. However, since they didn't exceed 20%, the CEC decided that S. Haidukevich had the right to be registered as a candidate.
During the consideration of the issue of registering Aliaksandr Lukashenka as a presidential candidate the commission also considered the appeal of the BPF Party regarding violations, committed by his initiative group during the collection of signatures. In particular, the BPF pointed at the use of the administrative resources and violation of the order of financing of the electoral campaign (printing of portraits of A. Lukashenka from the means that weren't a part of his electoral fund).
The speaker on the issue L Yarmoshyna noted that even if the facts of violations of the law by the initiative group were confirmed, there would be no grounds not to register A. Lukashenka as a presidential candidate, since no warnings had been issued to his initiative group. Moreover, she pointed at the fact that the majority of the appeals about violations of the law by the initiative group of A. Lukashenka were anonymous, which made it impossible to consider them. According to M. Orda, portraits of the candidate were produced at the expense of the public funds of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, the portraits were neither information booklets nor propaganda materials, therefore their production wasn't a law violation.