REPUBLIC BELARUS: PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS 23 SEPTEMBER 2012
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On 23 September 2012 parliamentary elections are being held in Belarus (second round, if required, on 7 October 2012).The campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", which is made up of members of the Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, announced the start of its long-term election monitoring mission on 21 June. The organisers are planning to mobilise 90 long-term and 200 short-term observers.
From the end of June to the start of October, European Exchange will work with the Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee to distribute a weekly newsletter in German and English to interested readers across the world. Further information and up-to-date news will be regularly published via the websites of the aforementioned organisations.
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Weekly Analytical Report: July 30th - August 5th
Report on Monitoring Election Results: July 23rd -29th
Analytical Report: 9 july - 22 July
Weekly Analytical Report No. 2: 25 June - 1 July
Weekly Analytical Report No. 1: Announcement of the election monitoring campaign
FINAL REPORT ON THE LONG - TERM MONITORING OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN BELARUS, 23 SEPTEMBER 2012
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. During the campaign period, 14 political prisoners – amongst them Ales Byalyatski, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) and chair of the Human Rights Center Viasna, as well as Mikalai Statkevich, presidential candidate in 2010, remained in prison. 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 (EC). 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 EC 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 EC changes made in 2010 simplified the procedure of candidate registration. Central Election Commission (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 in 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 chosen by oppositional 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 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.
See the full report here.
PRELIMINARY REPORT ON THE LONG - TERM MONITORING OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN BELARUS, 23 SEPTEMBER 2012
The “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign comes to conclusion 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 the atmosphere of political persecution and repression of the opponents of the government; this political environment, as well as the limitations at the stages of creation of election commissions and campaigning had a negative effect on the freedom to make an informed choice. Non-transparency of 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 (EC). Mainly, the amendments to the EC are of a positive nature. However, the absence of effective mechanisms of enforcing the citizens’ rights and appealing against violations significantly diminish 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 commission 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 political parties in opposition made up less than 1 per cent of the commissions.
Registration of the initiative groups by District Election Commissions (DECs) was done mainly without any violations. However, observers were 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 when DECs denied registration to candidates. Altogether, 494 candidates were nominated, 122 (24.6%) were not registered. Political parties nominated 204 candidates (41% of all nominated candidates). 23 per cent of candidates nominated by political parties were not registered, 19.5 per cent of them were nominees of the political parties in opposition.
The campaigning stage was marked by usage of the administrative resource for the benefit of the pro-governmental candidates. Simultaneously the state media published materials covering the activity of the opposition forces in the negative light. Compared with the parliamentary election in 2008, the legal base for campaigning has been 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 with their opinion. We have observed multiple instances when presentations and programs of opposition candidates were censored or not aired. This has significantly limited the rights of voters to receive complete information about candidates and their programs.
According to the estimates of the observers of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign, 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 the early voting the difference between the official and the observers’ data grew bigger. Also, the number of polling stations at which the PEC data was 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 facts of violations in the work of 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 sealed during the breaks and at the end of the day.
The voting process was marked by numerous violations during voting at the voter’s location. 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.
The vote count was not transparent. The observers were not able to monitor the accuracy of the vote count. The campaign’s observers reported discrepancies between their estimates on voter turnout and the data specified in the PECs’ voting results records.
525 complaints and appeals were submitted during this election. The majority of complaints are about ungrounded refusal to include representatives of the opposition parties and public associations in election commissions. Similarly to the previous election, none of the complaints were satisfied. The Central Commission received 57 complaints about non-registration of candidates, 11 of which were satisfied. The Supreme Court satisfied 1 out of 19 complaints submitted against the CEC decisions.
See the full report here.
WEEKLY REPORT OF OBSERVATION RESULTS 8: 10TH SEPTEMBER – 16TH SEPTEMBER
- On September 15 the United Civic Party (UCP) and BPF Party cancelled their decisions of candidate nomination. The parties said the ground was continued existence of political prisoners in the country and lack of positive change in the election environment, including failure to include representatives of the opposition forces in election commissions.
- With the drop-out of the UCP and BPF candidates the number of non-competitive (one-candidate) districts reached 15.
- There was continued censorship of TV and radio presentations of the opposition candidates and their programs that were presented for printing. At the same time, the Supervisory Council for Mass Media refused to incorporate representatives of non-state media and Belarusian Association of Journalists as its members.
- Campaign events of opposition candidates encounter obstacles from the executive authorities. Such cases are especially common in the regions. Meanwhile, the pro-governmental candidates often enjoy favorable conditions for organizing meetings with voters, usage of administrative resource is not a rare case.
- Less than one in four candidates used the right to create private election donation funds: as of September 16 only 80 accounts have been opened. Opposition candidates talk about bureaucratic obstacles created by commissions when trying to open a bank account. State-owned and private printing-shops refused to print the materials financed from private election funds of the opposition candidates.
See the full report here.
WEEKLY REPORT OF OBSERVATION RESULTS 7: SEPTEMBER 3RD – 9TH SEPTEMBER
- The campaigning is low-profile: candidate debates take place in few districts only, information boards in many districts remain empty; there is no mass distribution of printed campaign materials.
- The Central Election Commission ruled to prohibit participation of candidates’ agents in debates in case the agents ran for mandate in other districts. The ruling is contrary to Article 46 of the Election Code, which allows participation of candidates’ agents in debates without any limitations.
- TV-presentations of the opposition candidates and their platforms continue to undergo censorship in the state press. Observers register facts of usage of the administrative resource in favor of the pro-governmental candidates.
- Election campaigning takes place in the climate of pressure on democratic candidates and civic activists from the state bodies.
- The Supreme Court heard the complaints about denial of registration to candidates. One of 17 complaints was satisfied.
See the full report here.
ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION OF CANDIDATES’ RIGHT TO CAMPAIGN ON STATE TV, RADIO AND MASS MEDIA
The stage of pre-election campaigning has started and will last from August 22nd through September 22nd. Free time on state TV, radio and free-of-charge publication of candidates’ platforms in mass media determined by the Central Election Commission is one of the forms of campaigning.
As early as in the very beginning of the campaigning stage we have registered facts of censorship of campaign materials of some candidates.
On July 5th, 2012 the Central Election Commission created a Supervisory Council for control over compliance with the rules and regulations of election campaigning in mass media. Members of the Supervisory Council are officials of the Ministry of Information and representatives of the state-owned mass media. The civil society in the Supervisory Council is represented by two members of the pro-governmental Belarusian Union of Journalists. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists and non-state media are not represented in the Council.
The Supervisory Council is to oversee whether the mass media observe the requirements of the law and whether they provide for equal opportunities for candidates' performances on television, radio and in print. The Council is also in charge of hearing disputes related to the use of mass media during preparation and conduct of elections, upon requests from candidates, and making recommendations and conclusions, which should be considered by media executives.
See the full report here.
REPORT ON MONITORING REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES
On 23rd August, four weeks ahead of the election day, the registration of the candidates for the House of Representatives has been completed. 494 persons were nominated all over the country. 122 of them or 24.6% were denied registration. Nine candidates already registered by district election commissions withdraw their candidacies. In four districts the elections will be non-competitive (two districts in Minsk region, one – in Hrodna region, and one – in Brest region).
From the 128 candidates nominated by the opposition parties 25 (19,5%) have been denied registration. Several prominent politicians also have not been registered, 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, and others.
Most persons who have been denied registration were nominated by signature collection (56%), which is the only way to nominate candidates by the unregistered political parties and organizations. Thus, the "Tell the Truth" campaign nominated 25 of its activists by signature collection but only 13 (48% of the nominated) were registered. One of the leaders of this campaign, Mikhail Pashkevich, who has been nominated in the Kupalouski district of Minsk – a district to which all precincts established abroad belong to – have not been registered. The main reasons for denying registration, as indicated by district election commissions, were inaccuracies in voters’ signatures in signature sheets which made up more than 15% of the examined signatures and mistakes in candidates’ income declarations.
The Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections claim that the verification process lacked transparency and that most observers could not monitor the process due to obstacles made by the district election commissions. Despite some positive amendments to the Electoral Code made in 2010 which simplified the procedure of candidate registration, the non-transparency of the procedures of checking the documents submitted in support of candidates’ nomination makes it impossible to properly assess the process.
See the full report here .
REPORT ON THE RESULTS OF MONITORING REGISTRATION OF INITIATIVE GROUPS AND SIGNATURE COLLECTION
The vast majority of the initiative groups in support of the opposition candidates were registered. 85 initiative groups were denied registration, which is percentagewise almost 4 times the number of denials during the parliamentary elections in 2008.
There are registered facts of the authorities creating obstacles for members of the opposition candidates’ initiative groups and using administrative resources for the benefit of those who support the government.
At the signature collection stage members of initiative groups have filed a total of 15 complaints, while during the presidential election of 2010 more than 50 complaints were filed. The complaints are mainly about no access to dormitories of state enterprises and institutions for members of initiative groups.
See the full report here.
REPORT ON FORMATION OF PRECINCT ELECTION COMMISSIONS
Representatives of NGOs and political parties loyal to the regime dominate in the precinct election commission members. These entities have increased their representation in the precinct commissions from 41.5% in 2010 to 45.2% in 2012.
The proportion of opposition parties’ representatives is about 0.1% (61 out of 68, 945) in the total number of PEC member; they are represented in less than 1% of the commissions. This excludes the opponents of the government from organizing the voting and vote counting, and thus makes it impossible to influence the work of precinct election commissions.
The quota introduced in the Election Code in 2010 (Article 34) of having no less than a third of political party and NGO representatives in PEC is filled by higher representation of the pro-governmental associations and political parties. That does not add to greater pluralism in precinct election commissions and leaves the executive power in full control over the vote count.
In overwhelming majority of cases the precinct election commissions were formed in a non-transparent way, by approval of a proposed list of individuals prepared in advance. In a number of cases the observers did not have an opportunity to observe the decision-making procedure. Absence of selection criteria allows for manipulation by the bodies of the executive power.
See the full report here .
WEEKLY ANALYTICAL REPORT ON MONITORING ELECTION RESULTS: 30.07 - 5.08
The period of candidates’ nomination continues from July 15th to August 13th. Initiative groups collect signatures during door-to-door and street picket activities.
Some candidates and members of initiative groups experience pressure from the authorities. We have registered cases of state officials hindering the work of pro-democratic initiative groups, as well as usage of administrative resource to the benefit of pr-governmental candidates.
Activists of Belarusian Christian Democracy held street pickets for the boycott of the election. According to the Election Code, the pickets might be interpreted as early campaigning.
Political parties continue nominating candidates at extra-ordinary “election” congresses. State mass media do not report about nominated oppositional candidates, while congresses of the pro-governmental parties are covered by state TV channels.
Entities could nominate their representatives to 6, 349 precinct election commissions until August 5th. The commissions will be formed by August 8th. Activity of the oppositional political parties in this sphere remained on the same level as during the previous elections.
Ruling of the Central Election Commission # 42 determining the documents valid for receiving ballot papers might create possibilities for illegal manipulations with ballot papers.
See the full report here .
REPORT ON MONITORING ELECTION RESULTS: JULY 23RD -29TH
- July 25th was the final day of registration of the initiative groups for signaturecollection in support of the candidates’ nomination. 85 initiative groups (in support of 15potential candidates) were rejected registration. The number of registration denials thistime is almost 4 times higher than during the previous parliamentary election. Theoverwhelming majority of the initiative groups in support of the oppositional candidateswere registered.
- The process of nomination and registration of election observers is under way. 220 domestic and 14 international (CIS election observation mission) observers have alreadybeen registered. The majority of the domestic observers were nominated by the progovernmentalassociations.
- The Central Election Commission explained the order of campaigning for boycottingthe election: it is legal to campaign for the boycott, however, according to the Law “AboutMass Events” permission is needed for setting up street pickets. In the past the abovementionedLaw was used in a way that practically made it impossible for citizens toimplement their right to campaign for boycotting the election.
- Observers register facts of participation of the bodies of executive power in the workof the district election commissions, as well as other cases when the administrativeresources are used for the benefit of pro-governmental candidates. Signature collection insupport of nomination and campaigning for loyal candidates takes place at state enterprisesand institutions.
See the full report here.
ANALYTICAL REPORT No. 4, 9.07 - 22.07
Creation of initiative groups for collection of signatures in support of candidates’ nomination does not show any significant difference in intensity from its regular level for parliamentary elections in Belarus: the total of 439 initiative groups applied for registration. The commissions are still considering the applications. However, it is likely that the percentage of rejected applications will be quite small. The main reason for rejection – submission of application documents by a person other than the potential candidate — is essential for evaluation of current rejections (initiative groups for nomination of the former presidential candidates Mikola Statkevich (who is behind the bars at the moment) and Ales Mikhalevich (a political refugee)).
The local authorities determined the places where initiative groups are not allowed to collect signatures in support of their candidates. In a number of cases these places include most popular and crowded city territories.
None of the complaints submitted by the United Civil Party and BPF Party to Minsk city court and regional courts about non-inclusion of their representatives in district election commissions were satisfied. Composition of the commissions remained unchanged. Representation of the opposition forces in the commissions is only 3%.
Observers register significant participation of the executive bodies in the work of the district election commissions, as well as other cases of administrative resources used for the benefit of the pro-governmental candidates (such as assistance in campaigning).
OSCE/ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission on the deployment of the parliamentary election observation mission visited Belarus. Just before that chair of the Central Election Commission Lidia Yarmoshyna attended the conference on election organizing in Vienna, held by the OSCE.
The regime keeps up the dynamics of persecution and repression of its opponents. That does not help create the climate of openness and transparency during the election. In particular, we, again, have registered several cases of preventive administrative arrests on fabricated charges of disorderly conduct. KGB detained a number of persons in conjunction with intrusion of the Swedish plane in the air space of Belarus, which scattered teddy-bears with notes in support of freedom and democracy in Belarus.
See the full report here .
MONITORING REPORT ON THE FORMATION OF THE DISTRICT ELECTION COMMISSIONS
On July 9th 2012, 110 district election commissions were formed, each consisting of 13 people. 1,430 people out of 2,127 nominees were selected as commission members. Out of 199 people nominated by the political parties in opposition, 48 were included in the commissions (24%). By contrast, the pro-government organisation “Belaya Rus” nominated 117 citizens, 106 (90.5%) of whom became commission members.
The district election commissions were mostly formed of members of pro-government organisations: The Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, BRSM (Belarusian National Youth Union), “Belaya Rus”, and the Belarusian Association of Veterans. The commissions were formed under control of the executive without public discussion of the nominees. The absence of any formal criteria made it possible to manipulate the procedure of forming the commissions to the benefit of the organisations loyal to the authorities. Representatives of the opposition groups make up an insignificant – disproportionally small – share in the commissions, compared with the number of nominees put forward.
Find the full report here .
WEEKLY ANALYTICAL REPORT No. 2: 25 June - 1 July
- Currently the society does not notice the beginning of the election process: despite certain activation of the political parties, observers do not see animation of the public life in the country;
- During the period in consideration the authorities introduced administrative responsibility for conducting opinion polls and publication of their results without special permit from the authorities;
- Opinion polls show, currently half of the respondents are ready to participate in the elections and another third is still undecided about participation. At the same time, the society demonstrates high level of interest towards independent observation of the election process and is ready to step in the process;
- The parties in opposition began nominating their representatives to district election commissions: as of today, they claim they have nominated more than 300 members altogether (which is almost 3 times more than during the parliamentary elections in 2008);
- We observe intensification of targeted repression against the opposition structures and the civic society. At the same time, the recently detained journalist Andrzej Poczobut was released on bail.
- Decision not to hold live election debates has become a significant change in comparison with the last presidential election.
See the full report here
WEEKLY ANALYTICAL REPORT No. 1
On 23rd September 2012 parliamentary elections are being held in Belarus (second round, if required, on 7th October 2012).The campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, which is made up of members of the Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, announced the start of its long-term election monitoring mission on 21st June. The organisers are planning to mobilise 90 long-term and 200 short-term observers. European Exchange, a non-governmental organisation based in Berlin, is supporting the domestic election observers and will be reporting to an international audience on events during the elections.
The upcoming parliamentary elections are the first to be conducted according to the electoral code altered in 2010 and 2011. The new measures include: simplified conditions for the election campaign, the possibility to set up individual election campaign funds and debates between candidates in the state controlled media. Quotas for the make-up of the election commissions with representatives of political parties and civil society organisations have also been introduced. Experience from the 2010 local and presidential elections shows, however, that the newly introduced measures fail to be an effective tool for preventing electoral violations.
At the start of the election process political repression against the opposition and civil society continues. The 14 political prisoners – amongst them Ales Byalyatski, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) and chair of the Human Rights Center Viasna, as well as Mikalai Statkevich, presidential candidate in 2010, remain in prison. The recent arrest of the independent journalist, Andrei Pachobut, is another sign of increasing repression against independent media.
Not one of the parliamentary elections held so far has been recognised by the international community as free and fair. Lidia Yermoshina, chair of the Central Election Commission since 1996, was reappointed to this position in December 2011, although she has already reached the age limit for civil servants. This is a reason to assume that the politics of the Central Election Commission will remain unchanged when passing regulations and explanatory statements at these elections.
See the full report here.