Local elections. Final report

2018 2018-02-21T17:11:58+0300 2018-02-21T17:16:46+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/logo_elections.png The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

Elections of deputies of local councils of the 28th convocation, which began on November 14, 2017, took place against the background of an overall deterioration of the political situation in the country compared to the previous period of ‘soft practices’ lasting between August 2015 and February 2017. The period ended with a wave of protests caused by the application of Decree number 3, which was perceived by the authorities as a serious threat to political stability and resulted in repression against peaceful protesters, opposition activists and leaders, civil society members, independent journalists and human rights defenders. Politically motivated persecution was used, in one form or another, against over 900 people. Forty people were victims of politically motivated criminal prosecution.

Despite the fact that the overall situation stabilized by the year-end, the country’s prisons continued to hold political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka. The latter is a prisoner of conscience, according to Amnesty International. The authorities failed to drop criminal charges against activists of the independent trade union REP, Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik. In December 2017 and January 2018, the Ministry of Information blocked access to two popular independent online resources, Belarusian Partisan (www.belaruspartisan.org) and Charter 97 (www.charter97.org). Judicial and other harassment was still used against independent journalists working with foreign media without government accreditation (most notably, TV channel Belsat).

After the launch of the elections, the Belarusian authorities said that they were not going to finalize the process of further improvement of the electoral legislation in line with the recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR. Thus, the electoral law was not reformed and the elections to local councils were governed by the old rules and procedures, which have been repeatedly criticized, including by the OSCE ODIHR observers.

The elections were very passive and hardly visible to the public. Despite the absence of any significant violations and obstacles at the electoral phases of registration of nomination groups, collecting of signatures and election campaigning, the stages that followed, including early voting, counting of the votes and the tabulation of voting results in higher commissions, were marred by numerous manipulations, active use of administrative resources and lack of transparency.

Monitoring of all stages of the elections once again clearly emphasized the systemic problems inherent in the electoral process that need to be addressed.

The electoral process did not comply with a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections. This is evidenced by the lack of equal access to the media for all candidates, the absence of impartial electoral commissions, numerous cases of voter coercion to participate in early voting, and opacity of some election procedures for observers. The key reason for criticism is the lack of transparency of the vote count, which prevents the observers from viewing the announced election results as a reflection of the will of voters.

Election commissions

The formation of election commissions at all levels took place in an atmosphere of greater openness, as compared to the last local elections in 2014. All the representatives of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” had the opportunity to attend meetings of the authorities in charge of the formation of election commissions, but in most cases the campaign’s observers were denied access to the nomination documents, which were submitted to local executive and regulatory bodies.

The formation of election commissions, as in previous elections, was marked by a discriminatory approach towards representatives of the opposition parties in comparison with the nominees from the pro-government political parties and public associations, as well as labor collectives. In particular, only 20.6% of the nominees from the opposition parties were included in the territorial election commissions (TECs) (0.067% of the total number of TEC members), 16.7% — in the district election commissions (DECs) (0.53% of the total number of DEC members), and 11% — in the precinct election commissions (PECs) (0.04% the total number of PEC members). At the same time, over 90% of representatives of the pro-government political parties and the five biggest pro-government public associations (Belaya Rus, Belarusian Republican Youth Union, Belarusian Women’s Union, Belarusian Public Association of Veterans, and the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus) won seats on the commissions.

Absence of specific criteria for the selection of candidates negate all efforts to appeal against the decisions of the bodies in charge of forming the commissions.

Representation of political parties in election commissions is still extremely low, reflecting the specifics of the Belarusian political system. The main actors of the election process (including election officials) are pro-governmental associations and labor groups.

Nomination and registration of candidates

According to the CEC, 17,542 nomination groups were registered, which is 99.9% of the total number of nominees.

Statistics of refusals to register and withdrawn nominations demonstrate the level of applying the technical procedures of registration (verification of signatures, declarations, etc.) in the political struggle. The audits were used selectively, primarily against opposition candidates. The number of refusals to register candidates for the Minsk City Council was 23%, the Councils at the district level — 1.5%, the rural councils — 0.3%.

78% of the campaign’s observers were not admitted directly to the verification procedures and were not able to report a comprehensive and unbiased approach by the commissions. The observers were only able to attend the meetings where the results of verification were announced and decisions on registration were taken. This significantly reduces credibility of the work of election officials, calls into question not only individual decisions to refuse the registration of candidates, but also the decisions which allowed their registration.

Election campaigning

In comparison with the previous elections of local councils of deputies, this year’s elections were marked by a greater number of locations for campaigning events, meetings with voters and posting campaign materials. These venues were also more convenient. When making decisions about campaigning locations, local governments were increasingly guided by the principle “everything which is not forbidden is allowed.”

Much more candidates, as compared to the previous elections, filed notices of events under a simplified procedure. Accordingly, the number of announced election pickets increased. Traditionally, election campaigning events were more active in Minsk: one candidate announced an average of about 70 events.

Election commissions in the regions mainly failed to inform the public about the time and place of the meetings with voters. 30% of the campaign’s observers in the regions reported that candidates were deprived of equal opportunities and could not meet with voters in the premises provided by the authorities. As during previous election campaigns, administrative resources were extensively used in favor of pro-government candidates.

There were no significant barriers to electoral pickets; however, there were elements of pressure at the pickets of opposition figures.

Early voting

As before, early voting was orchestrated by local authorities, administrations of government-owned enterprises and institutions. In some cases, the use of administrative resources in order to ensure voter turnout was accompanied by elements of control of the voters (forcing them to come or not to come to the polls) and threats of various disciplinary sanctions for those who do not want to take part in the elections.

Early voting remains one of the key areas of concern in the overall electoral process in Belarus.

Home voting

Home voting was accompanied by significant violations of the procedure under Art. 54 of the Electoral Code. The campaign’s observers documented cases of voters’ complaints to the PECs alleging that they did not request home voting.

33.3% of the observers reported cases when voters said, when visited by the PEC members, that they had not applied for arranging home voting.

50% of the observers noted the discrepancy between the number of home voters and the number of ballots issued to the PEC members to organize such a vote.

Voting at the polling stations and vote count

The Electoral Code does not describe the procedure of ballot counting. Recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR and the proposals of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" on the exact and detailed resolution of the procedure through a decision of the CEC were not been taken into account during the election preparations.

The campaign’s observers point out that the vast majority of the PECs covered by the observation carried out a joint and simultaneous counting of ballots, without announcing the voter’s choice and demonstrating each ballot to those present. Such a procedure of counting of the ballots is not transparent and does not allow to correlate the results of observation to the data reflected in the protocol of voting results. 97% of the observers assessed the vote count as opaque.

During the observation of the counting procedures, the campaign’s observers documented other violations of electoral laws: 7.1% of the PECs did not carry out a separate counting of votes, 42.3% of the PECs did not announce the results of the separate counting of votes, 53.6% of the observers were seated at a considerable distance from the tables on which the vote count was carried out, which prevented them from conducting a comprehensive observation of the procedure.

Appeals against violations of electoral law

Filing appeals against decisions and actions of commissions and other participants in the electoral process still fails to bring positive results, which makes actors in the electoral process rarely use the tool in practice.

Local elections. Final report

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