Valiantsin Stefanovich comments on Lidziya Yarmoshyna’s statement
On October 19, head of the Central Election Commission Lidziya Yarmoshyna spoke in TUT.BY studio. Among other things, she commented on a series of video footage recorded at various polling stations. One of the videos was posted on the website of the Human Rights Center "Viasna".
Answering a question on how to change electoral procedures when members of district commissions do not allow observers to approach the table during the vote count, Lidziya Yarmoshyna said:
“All the ballots should be counted on the same side of the table. That is not like this, surrounding the table, as we have seen, but if we were counting the ballots with you, the observers would be here, and here they would count the ballots. And I think that's the situation, which, by the way, many of the commission did, that would suit everyone. Both the observers and members of the commissions. So I think that we need to think about it for the next elections and provide in our methodical explanations a layout, because, of course, the rooms are different, but we must put a table so that it was visible at least on one side.”
In turn, the “Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections” campaign said in its findings that the electoral process did not meet a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections. In particular, the legislation still has no regulations on the method of counting ballots by the precinct election commissions.
The counting of votes largely repeated earlier negative practices of opaque ballot counting. More than half of the observers were placed in unsuitable conditions: 76.9% were unable to see the contents of the ballots.
Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", said:
“This year’s guidelines for the PECs also have a provision saying that the commission is obliged to provide the observer with an opportunity to directly observe the counting of votes. This is certainly a very subjective wording: what does ‘provide’ mean? What distance should there be between the observer and the table?
With regard to the layout of tables in the guidelines, it should be noted that it does not matter where the table will be situated, the problem is about the transparency of the procedures. During this year’s campaign, we have written to the Central Election Commission asking to adopt their resolution and settle the counting process so that it is carried out by one member of the commission with the demonstration of each ballot and announcing the results. They disagreed, saying that this requires a change in legislation. It is now possible to resolve the issue, because we still have a little time ahead of the parliamentary elections.
Because the matter is still about the transparency of the procedure, since even if the observer is right near the table and the ballots are counted the way they were counted now – when one member of the commission separately counted his part of ballots, silently writes down the result and then gives this piece of paper to the secretary – then it is like a game of thimbles, not a vote count. And our recommendation is that the procedure of counting itself should be clearly spelled out in the Electoral Code. Only when the Code regulates each step and the commission is guided by this and acts in accordance with the regulations at all stages, that's when the observer will really see the vote count.”