Preliminary final report on the results of monitoring of preparation and conduct of parliamentary election
This document is a preliminary version of final report of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign. The final version of final report will be presented at the end of September.
“Right to Choose-2016” campaign
for observation of election of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (6th convocation)
Preliminary final report on the results of monitoring of preparation and conduct of parliamentary election
September 12, 2016
The “Right to Choose-2016” campaign conducted long-term observation of the election campaign in all regions of Belarus by efforts of organizations participating in the campaign[*]. In the course of early voting observers of the campaign monitored the election process at 382 polling stations. On the main Election Day, September 11th, observers of the campaign monitored the election process at 622 polling stations.
This document is a preliminary version of final report of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign. The final version of final report will be presented at the end of September.
Improvement of relations between official Minsk and Western countries (European Union and the United States) was the main factor that influenced the conditions of preparation and conduct of election of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (6th convocation). In the context of armed conflict in Ukraine, official Minsk tried to make use of its role as facilitator of the peacekeeping process and source of stability in the region for the purpose of justification of the existence of an authoritarian regime in Belarus, where the absolute power of the president is not restricted by operation of principles of separation of powers, parliamentarism and the rule of law. At the same time, official Minsk has changed the rhetoric to some extent in order to preserve the current political regime and refrained from aggressive attacks on the democratic opposition, while periodically sending friendly (positive) signals to the Western countries on the matters that do not threaten the stability of the regime. In particular, the subject matters of positive signals included certain issues of human rights protection, the possibility of restoration of full diplomatic relations and international cooperation, as well as demonstration of positive attitude toward international election observation missions.
Apart from rhetorical measures, Belarusian authorities refrained from using the most severe forms of repression against political opponents after the presidential election, held in October 2015, and the subsequent removal of EU sanctions on Belarusian officials. For a certain period of time there were no convicted persons recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian and international human rights activists, Belarusian authorities eased the pressure on journalists who cooperate with the foreign media and do not have the accreditation of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while administrative arrests of participants of protest rallies (both authorized and unauthorized) were mostly replaced with fines. At the same, legislative restrictions on civil rights and freedoms remained unchanged – for some time the authorities simply didn’t apply the most severe sanctions against violators of these restrictions, but kept them close at hand at the level of repressive legislation.
However, on the eve and during the election campaign the authorities applied a wide range of various forms of repression, which ensured an adequate level of control over the public mood by the authoritarian regime. New political prisoners appeared in Belarus during the election campaign. The association of Belarusian human rights organizations recognized the following persons as political prisoners on the basis of clearly defined criteria: the founder of the human rights organization Mikhail Zhemchuzhniy and participant of protest against presidential election, held on December 19, 2010, Vladimir Kondrus, who was detained on June 14, 2016, and charged under part 2 of article 293 of the Criminal Code (“Mass riots”). Eduard Palchis (creator of website 1963x.com, the content of which was recognized as extremist by a court decision as of August 25, 2016) and Andrei Bondarenko are also among those who are currently serving their sentences and whose imprisonment has been qualified by Belarusian democratic forces as a manifestation of political repression. Many leaders and activists of opposition organizations are living in exile because of the threat of political repression. An ex-presidential candidate in 2010 election Ales Mikhalevich remains a defendant in a criminal case concerning the events of December 19, 2010, while the record of ex-candidate Nikolai Statkevich’s conviction hasn’t been expunged, which formed the basis for the decision on denial of registration of his initiative group in 2016 parliamentary election.
The number of cases of administrative repression has increased on the eve of 2016 election. According to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, 252 cases of administrative persecution of protesters and opponents of the regime were recorded during the first eight months of 2016, which exceeds the number of similar cases recorded during the whole of 2015 (197 cases). At the same time, imposition of fines is still the main form of punishment of protesters. Total amount of fines imposed during the first half of 2016 exceeded 60 thousand euro. The following examples of demonstrative punishment of protesters were recorded in the course of the election campaign: on August 10, an administrative fine was imposed on UCP party candidate Olga Mayorova and other activists as a form of punishment for organizing a rally of solidarity with the prisoners; on September 8, a preventive measure in the form of detainment was applied against the leader of youth organization “Young Front” Dmitriy Dashkevich and other alleged participants of the picket scheduled for that day.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of opposition organizations decided to participate in the election campaign. Meanwhile, Conservative Christian Party-BPF, Belarusian Social Democratic Gromada and the informal alliance of several politicians “Belarusian National Congress”, formed in May 2016, were the only opposition forces which ignored the election. Despite some isolated calls for boycotting of parliamentary election, a large-scale campaign for election boycott wasn’t observed. The following opposition forces took part in the parliamentary election: the center-right coalition as part of United Civic Party, the unregistered organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, Human rights and public awareness non-governmental organization “Movement” For Freedom”, BPF party, Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada), the Belarusian Left Party “A Just World”, Belarusian Party “The Greens”, as well as the unregistered “Tell the truth” campaign and a number of smaller informal public associations. The following pro-government parties took part in the parliamentary election: The Communist Party of Belarus, Republican Party of Labor and Justice, Liberal Democratic Party (which positions itself as a constructive opposition, but supports virtually all the initiatives of the government), Belarusian Patriotic Party. Additionally, pro-government public association “Belaya Rus” voiced its support for a wide range of nominated candidates.
However, despite increased participation of parties of different political orientation in the current election campaign, the election of deputies of the House of Representatives didn’t give a strong impetus for the revitalization of civil society: the election campaign didn’t attract much attention of the public, nor did it trigger broad public discussions. Among other things, this is due to the fact that despite some procedural improvements in pre-election campaigning, the election process still remains under the administrative control of state government resulting in the fact that only those candidates who were approved by the executive authorities can be elected as deputies.
The legal environment in Belarus remains unchanged and doesn’t enable the conduct of free, fair, and competitive elections that offer equal opportunities for all competing political forces. The Belarusian authorities didn’t follow recommendations of domestic observers (including recommendations of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign) and OSCE/ODIHR election monitoring mission, which were made on the basis of observation of 2015 presidential election: there were no amendments made to the Electoral Code, which could ensure a fair and transparent vote tabulation, and there was also no improvement of the electoral process at the level of resolutions adopted by the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Belarus on Elections and Republican Referenda (CEC).
The adoption of new version of the Electoral Code in 2013 resulted in several changes in the legal regulation of election process as compared to 2012 parliamentary election. Some of these changes have already been implemented during 2014 election of deputies of local councils and 2015 presidential election. The amendment on renunciation of public financing of election campaigns of candidates and introduction of election fund as the only source of campaign finance, which can be raised through contributions of candidate, citizens of Belarus and Belarusian companies, has made the greatest impact on the election campaign. Furthermore, starting from 2016 parliamentary election those political parties which have nominated their candidates for deputies are deprived of the right to nominate their representatives in a consultative capacity to the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Belarus on Elections and Republican Referenda (CEC): From now on, political parties can nominate such representatives only to district election commissions (DECs). Introduction of territorial election commissions (TECs – oblast election commissions and Minsk city election commission) is another innovation of this election campaign, which resulted in the fact that consideration of appeals is now concentrated at the level of TECs, while the CEC carries out examination of appeals only on rare occasions.
In furtherance of the provisions of the Electoral Code the CEC adopted several resolutions aimed at clarifying the procedure for implementation of provisions of electoral legislation for the purposes of current election campaign.
One of these resolutions is worthy of special mention, since it was adopted during the voting process and made a fundamental and unprecedented impact on the process of election observation. On September 10, the CEC convened a meeting and adopted Resolution №57, which determined that the meeting of DEC or precinct election commission (PEC) can be attended by no more than one observer chosen from among accredited agents of candidate for deputy of the House of Representatives. As a result, the opportunities of candidates to monitor the voting process and vote tabulation were significantly reduced. This extraordinary change of conditions for conducting election process was adopted on the eve of election day in a secretive way: accredited observers of political parties and public associations weren’t invited to the meeting of the Central Election Commission, where Resolution №57 was adopted, and there was no announcement of this meeting published on the website of the CEC, which is contrary to norms of publicity established by the CEC.
The Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus envisages that the process of organization and conduct of elections of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly is carried out by a 4-level system of election commissions:
— The Central election commission formed in accordance with the Constitution (the CEC doesn’t include any representatives of the opposition);
— Territorial election commissions: six oblast commissions and Minsk city commission;
— District election commissions: 110 commissions (in accordance with the total number of single-mandate election districts);
— Precinct election commissions: 6018 commissions (including those located abroad).
According to article 34 of the Electoral Code, the election commissions shall consist of representatives of political parties, other public associations, labor collectives, as well as representatives of citizens nominated to the commissions through submission of application.
At the same time, unregistered political parties are deprived of the opportunity to nominate their representatives to election commissions of any level, while registered political parties that didn’t register any regional organizations are deprived of the opportunity to nominate their representatives to PECs.
The stage of formation of TECs, DECs and PECs showed that the election campaign in Belarus does not provide for full participation of the opposition parties and organizations in the work of bodies responsible for preparation and conduct of elections. This undermines the credibility of the election process from a community’s point of view and serves as the basis for the future distrust of the election results.
The procedure for conducting interviews with persons nominated to the election commissions, which is currently used in preparation for the meetings of bodies responsible for forming the election commissions, was of a fictitious nature and, in fact, didn’t play any significant role in ensuring balanced representation of different political forces in the commissions.
The vast majority of nominated representatives of pro-government organizations were included in the compositions of election commissions, while an absolute majority of nominees of the opposition parties and independent organizations were denied membership in the commissions.
The tables below contain information about the number of representatives of different political organizations included in DECs and PECs as compared to the previous parliamentary election (table information is based on the official data of the Central Election Commission).
Nomination and inclusion of representatives of different subjects of nomination in the composition of DECs
Only 5 out of 16 nominees of the opposition parties were included in TECs throughout the country, and only 26 out of 134 nominees were included in DECs. The portion of representatives of the opposition parties in TECs and DECs remains insignificant — 5.4% and 1.8% correspondingly. In 2012 parliamentary election, the portion of representatives of the opposition parties in the composition of DECs amounted to 3%, while in 2008 election it was 2.2%.
On the average, only 1 in every 20 nominees of the opposition parties was included in the composition of PECs. At the same time, the inclusion rate for representatives of public associations and political parties that are loyal to the regime is a completely different story — more than 90% of representatives nominated by these organizations were included in PECs. In this regard, the most telling example is the case of Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party, which traditionally puts forward very few (if any) candidates for deputies, but still nominates a lot of representatives and observers to the election commissions: all 17 of its nominees were included in the composition of DECs, and 639 (96.81%) out of 660 nominees were appointed as members of PECs. Such an incredible result is an unachievable goal for the opposition forces.
Nomination and inclusion of representatives of different subjects of nomination in the composition of PECs
Just as in the course of previous election campaigns, the courts have never sustained the appeals against the decisions on formation of election commissions, even in cases where the invalidity of decisions on the formation of commissions was evident. In particular, in many cases judicial examination revealed that representatives of pro-government organizations were not duly nominated (for example, the Belarusian Women’s Union and the Belarusian Association of Veterans). Consequently, court appeals against the decisions on non-inclusion of representatives of organizations-participants of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign didn’t help to redress the violation of legitimate rights and interests of political parties and ensure the inclusion of their representatives in the election commissions. At the same time, the results of judicial examination of provided evidence demonstrated systemic illegality and invalidity of the decisions on formation of election commissions for holding elections of deputies of the House of representatives (6th convocation).
According to the Electoral Code, candidates for deputies can be nominated in one of three ways as follows: 1) by a political party – upon a decision of the governing body of the party; 2) by labor collectives located on the territory of relevant election district – upon a decision of the meeting or conference of the labor collective; 3) by the initiative group through the process of collection of voters’ signatures. Nomination of candidate for deputy of the House of Representatives through collection of signatures is carried out by a group of voters (the initiative group) composed of no less than 10 persons. A person who is proposed for nomination as a candidate must gain the support of at least 1,000 voters residing on the territory of relevant election district.
30 (6.26%) out of 479 groups-applicants were denied registration at the stage of registration of the initiative groups for collection of signatures in support of nomination of candidates. This is almost 3 times less than the number of refusals recorded in the previous parliamentary election, when 85 (19.31%) out of 440 groups-applicants were denied registration. All of the groups representing opposition candidates were successfully registered (in one case — following the appeal to the higher level election commission).
With some minor exceptions, state authorities didn’t impede the conduct of pickets for collection of signatures in support of nomination of candidates. However, there were recorded cases of coercion of opposition candidates, isolated cases of attacks on pickets for collection of signatures, as well as cases of creating obstacles for signature collection in hostels (dormitories) and impeding the process of submission of nomination documents to DECs.
There were recorded facts of abuse of administrative resources in the course of pre-election activities, including one-sided reporting on signature collection in favor of pro-government candidates by state-owned media, which violates the principle of equitable treatment of candidates representing different political forces. According to the opposition parties, those persons who publicly expressed their intention to register an initiative group or applied for registration of the initiative group found themselves under coercion at the place of employment or residence. In several cases such coercion was the reason why those persons who were planning to come forward as candidates were forced to give up the nomination.
The observers didn’t record any cases of revocation of registration of the initiative groups at the stage of nomination of candidates. At the same time, two cautions received by the initiative group of representative of Movement “For Freedom” Ales Logvinets formed the basis for refusal to register him as a candidate.
According to the CEC, 507 (80.5%) out of 630 candidates were nominated with the use of one method of nomination: 122 (19.4%) candidates were nominated by citizens through collection of signatures, 31 (4.9%) candidates were nominated by labor collectives, 354 (56.2%) candidates were nominated by political parties. 111 (17.6%) candidates were nominated through a combination of two methods of nomination: 90 (14.3%) candidates were nominated through a combination of signature collection and nomination by labor collectives, 21 (3.3%) candidates were nominated through a combination of signature collection and nomination by political parties. Meanwhile, 12 (1.9%) candidates were nominated through a combination of all three methods of nomination.
The total number of nominees has increased as compared to the previous parliamentary elections. Furthermore, it should be noted that candidates nominated by political parties (both the opposition and pro-government forces) are the ones who showed the largest increase in percentage terms. Meanwhile, the number of candidates nominated only through collection of signatures demonstrates an obvious downward trend.
The vast majority of opposition candidates were nominated by political parties. Only a small portion of candidates representing opposition organizations were nominated through the process of collection of signatures, however the majority of their initiative groups didn’t submit the collected signatures of voters to the district election commissions. Pro-government candidates were nominated either by labor collectives or through a combination of signature collection and nomination by labor collectives, or sometimes even through a combination of all three methods of nomination — almost all of the applicants nominated in such a manner were registered as candidates
Contrary to the statements of the Central Election Commission, denials of registration of opposition candidates remained a common practice in terms of restriction on voting rights. Despite the decline in the total number of refusals to register candidates as compared to the previous election campaigns, from the perspective of opposition parties and associations denials of registration were still widely spread both in quantitative terms (the total number of denials) and percentage terms (denial percentage of the total number of applicants who were nominated by the opposition organizations).
The most widespread grounds for denial of registration were objections to declarations of income and property submitted by the applicants. Meanwhile, refusals to register candidates based on the results of verification of collected signatures remained a common practice in the case of candidates nominated by way of signature collection.
The procedure for verification of voters’ signatures submitted by candidates for deputies, who were nominated by way of signature collection, remained non-transparent and unclear to the public. This fact manifested itself in denial of observers’ access to this component of DECs’ activity for monitoring purposes as well as in the absence of representatives of the opposition in the majority of DECs, which undermines the credibility of the results of verification procedures. The few representatives of the opposition parties, who were included in the composition of DECs and TECs, were also deprived of the opportunity to exercise full-fledged control over the process of verification of signatures submitted by pro-government candidates.
Among the main reasons for denial of registration stated in the decisions of DECs were inaccuracies of signatures in the signature sheets, which accounted for more than 15% of verified signatures, errors in the declarations of income, as well as shortcomings in the documents confirming the place of work or education. In some cases, DECs wrongly interpreted the absence of certification of copies of documents as a valid reason for denial of registration.
In several cases, applicants were denied registration on the grounds of objections to copies of documents confirming the place of employment and education of persons nominated as candidates for deputies. This category of documents is required for the first time ever in the process of nomination of candidates for deputies of the House of Representatives, since submission of these documents is envisaged by amendments to the Electoral Code, which were introduced in 2013. Therefore, amendments to the Electoral Code didn’t simplify the procedure for registration of candidates for deputies, but instead made it more complicated.
DECs showed a biased attitude towards candidates for deputies nominated by opposition parties and associations as compared to those loyal to the current government. In several cases, such an attitude resulted in denial of registration of strong candidates nominated by organizations-participants of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign, who were active on the territory of election districts and had a good chance of gaining the support of voters. Such a practice on the part of DECs created unequal conditions for candidates and deprived voters of the opportunity to elect their representatives to the parliament on the basis of equal and fair conditions.
Registration of candidates broken down by method of nomination in comparison with the previous election
*If a candidate was nominated by two or more subjects of nomination, then each of these methods of nomination is specified separately in the appropriate boxes
The lowest number of denials of registration was recorded in the case of candidates nominated by political parties (84% of the total number of nominated candidates were registered), however the best results in terms of successful registration were achieved by those candidates who were nominated by two (through a combination of signature collection by citizens and nomination by labor collectives or through collection of signatures + nomination by political parties) or even three subjects of nomination at the same time: in both cases, the percentage of registered candidates is almost 100%. As a rule, this method of nomination is used by those candidates who have the support of the government.
The statistics on refusals to register candidates nominated by the opposition forces and pro-government parties as compared to 2012 parliamentary election speak for themselves:
Denials of registration of candidates nominated by opposition parties in comparison with the previous election
*Information in the table is based on the official data on the subjects of nomination excluding the representatives of unregistered organizations who were nominated as candidates under the brands of opposition
As we can see, the number of political parties that nominated their candidates has increased from eight to nine as compared to previous election. At the same time, there is not much difference in percentage of denials of registration between the opposition and pro-government candidates. However, the percentage of denials of registration of candidates nominated by way of signature collection is much higher than the refusal rate for applicants nominated by political parties. On the contrary, candidates nominated through a combination of two or three methods (a common way of nomination in the case of applicants who have the support of the executive branch) were almost never faced with denials of registration.
In general, the number of refusals to register candidates has decreased as compared to previous election: 93 candidates were denied registration, which amounts to 14.8% of all applicants (taking into account that 16 candidates withdrew their nominations). There were 122 cases of denial of registration of candidates in 2012 parliamentary election, or 24.6% of the total number of nominated candidates (taking into account that nine candidates withdrew their nominations). In 2008 parliamentary election the refusal rate for candidates also amounted to 24%.
According to several opposition parties and associations, the number of denials of registration of their nominees not only hasn’t decreased, but even increased in comparison with 2012 parliamentary election. This is the case of the BPF Party, Belarusian Left Party “A Just World” and representatives of the Belarusian Christian Democracy nominated via UCP party (BCD party lost a quarter of its nominees at the stage of registration). Moreover, the refusal rate for above-mentioned parties has increased both in quantitative terms (the total number of denials) and percentage terms (denial percentage of the total number of applicants who were nominated by the opposition organizations). However, candidates nominated by other parties-participants of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign were faced with a relatively small number of denials: this is the case of UCP party, BCD Party and Belarusian Party “The Greens” (the latter registered all five of its nominees).
It was only on rare occasions that submission of complaints against denials of registration to TECs as well as further appeals in courts bore fruit and allowed potential candidates to achieve registration. After the end of pre-election campaigning, several registered candidates withdrew from the election process and gave up the nomination. In particular, among those representatives of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign who gave up the nomination were 4 candidates of UCP party and 3 candidates of BPF party. As for the other candidates, among those who gave up the nomination were 5 representatives of LDP party, 1 representative of the Belarusian Left Party “A Just World”, 2 representatives of the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, and 8 representatives of the Communist Party of Belarus.
The amendment on renunciation of public financing of election campaigns of candidates, introduced to the Electoral Code in 2013, was applied at the parliamentary election level for the first time. Experience has proven that the absence of state funding resulted in a small amount of campaign and advertising materials, which prevented voters from getting acquainted with candidates.
The insular nature of the process of generation of election funds, non-public information about fundraising sources, the absence of ban on contributions to the election funds made by state-owned enterprises (with the exception of those financed from the state budget), participation of NGOs financed from the state budget in pre-election campaigning (including the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus), pre-election canvassing by labor collectives of organizations and enterprises fully or partially financed from the state budget, as well as campaigning activity of political parties receiving financial assistance from the state in non-monetary form (state government granted the privilege of renting public facilities at preferential rates to the Communist Party of Belarus, the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, and Belaya Rus’) allow for the conclusion that pre-election campaigns of pro-government candidates are still being financed by the state, while the opposition candidates are deprived of such support. A total of 355 candidates (68% of the total number of registered candidates) have opened their bank accounts with “Belarusbank” for gathering voluntary contributions to their election funds.
By contrast with 2012 parliamentary election, banking red tape and slowing of the process of opening of electoral fund accounts wasn’t a widespread practice in the course of current election campaign: the majority of candidates had the opportunity to do it quickly and efficiently.
State-owned media and election commissions have been practicing censorship in the process of publication and distribution of campaign materials: there were several recorded cases of refusal to publish election programmes as well as cases of refusal to broadcast public speeches of candidates on TV and radio; biographical information and photos, submitted by candidates to district election commissions for inclusion on general posters (to be printed by DECs), were being edited and manipulated on a systematic basis; preliminary review and approval of texts for the leaflets was unlawfully demanded by some of the election commissions. Censorship and refusals to broadcast recorded speeches of candidates were less common as compared to 2012 parliamentary election, but still there were a few reported cases in the course of this campaign.
State-owned media gave coverage to campaigning activities of pro-government candidates, while suppressing the activities of opposition candidates and parties. 386 candidates (or 74% of the total number of registered candidates) submitted their election programmes for publication. Some of the candidates reported that their election programmes were edited in the process of publication without a reasonable basis. State-owned newspapers and DECs failed to show a unified approach to publication of election programmes of candidates on their websites
There were fewer reports about problems with printing of leaflets and posters as compared to the previous election campaigns. However, several printing houses refused to print campaign materials, unless the candidates obtained an approval for text in the leaflets from DEC.
Payment for publication of campaign materials of candidates in the print media wasn’t a common practice: there were only a few cases of paid publications recorded. At the same time, candidates made use of advertising billboards in the course of election campaign for the first time ever.
In several cases, candidates of the opposition parties were faced with the censorship of information and photos, which were submitted for inclusion on general posters to be printed by DECs.
In general, state authorities ensured effective implementation of the procedure for organizing pre-election meetings, gatherings and pickets based on declarative principle in accordance with article 451 of the Electoral Code. However, in the same way as before the simplified procedure based on declarative principle (notification to the local executive and administrative body no later than two days prior to the suggested day of conduct of mass event) can be used only by candidates and their proxies. Other subjects of electoral process must send a notification to the local authorities no later than 15 days prior to the suggested day of conduct of mass event (including agitation events), which means that public authorities are provided with the opportunity to impose a ban on conduct of any kind of mass event in their sole discretion. Such a dual approach to regulation of agitation events constitutes an obstacle to equal participation of candidates and other subjects of electoral process in the pre-election campaigning, and it was clearly shown in the course of current campaign of agitation: protocols on administrative violations were drawn up in relation to participants of mass action held in Minsk on August 25. The CEC banned candidates from using a simplified procedure (based on declarative principle) for organizing mass events outside the boundaries of their election districts.
According to article 53 of the Electoral Code, those citizens who are unable to vote at their place of residence on the main election day have the right to fill in the ballot papers and cast them into special sealed-off ballot boxes for early voting on the territory of PECs under condition of exclusion of control over expression of their will and no earlier than five days before the election day. In such a case, a voter is not required to present any kind of official confirmation or explanation of the reasons for the impossibility to come and vote on the election day. Early voting is carried out from 10am till 2pm and from 4pm till 7pm in the presence of at least two members of the PEC.
Proper storage of ballot boxes should be ensured by the chairperson of the PEC. However, the current legislation and the CEC guidance for PECs do not provide detailed description of measures that must be applied in order to ensure safety of ballot boxes and prevent access of unauthorized persons during the breaks in early voting process.
Observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign recorded 185 cases of improper storage of ballot boxes under conditions that made them accessible to unauthorized persons during the breaks in early voting process. In the vast majority of cases, improper storage of ballot boxes manifested itself in the refusals to seal off the premises, where ballot boxes are kept, careless sealing of the ballot boxes, which allowed for unauthorized ballot box stuffing. In several cases, observers recorded facts of access of unauthorized persons to the ballot boxes during the time when early voting wasn’t conducted.
The current election campaign is characterized by extensive use of administrative enforcement aimed at organizing compulsory voting of students of educational institutions and workers of state-owned enterprises. Furthermore, administrative enforcement was accompanied by measures violating the principle of free election held under the terms of a secret ballot: representatives of administrations of educational institutions and state-owned enterprises were monitoring participation of their students and staff in the early voting process. Observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign filed a total of 13 complaints in relation to these facts.
It should be noted that compulsory voting organized with the use of administrative enforcement, as well as illegal administrative control over participation of citizens in early voting, constitutes a violation with a high degree of latency.
According to official data, the turnout figures for early voting have increased as compared to 2012 parliamentary election: according to the CEC, the current turnout figures for early voting broke the record for voter turnout in the parliamentary elections in Belarus. By comparison: the official turnout rate over the whole period of early voting in 2004 election of deputies of third convocation of the House of Representatives (which was combined with a referendum on granting A.Lukashenko the right to run for president an unlimited number of times), amounted only to 17.39%.
Official data on voter turnout in the parliamentary election (as %)
However, the reports of observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign, who conducted vote tabulation during the whole period of early voting, suggest that compulsory voting organized with the use of administrative enforcement only partially contributed to unprecedentedly high turnout figures. Meanwhile, the main instrument for achieving such a high turnout rate was a deliberate manipulation having indicia of a crime.
The observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign conducted tabulation of votes of early voters at 382 polling stations. It should be noted that turnout figures recorded by observers coincided with those announced by the PECs only at 69 polling stations (or 18% of all polling stations that were covered by election observation). Discrepancy between turnout figures recorded by PECs and the observers amounted to 5% or more at 141 polling stations (or 26% of all polling stations that were covered by election observation), which can be explained only by deliberate manipulations on the part of the election commissions.
Overestimation of official turnout figures as compared to the actual turnout rates was recorded in all election districts where observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign conducted continuous monitoring at all polling stations on a permanent basis. However, the most large-scale illegal manipulations and overestimations of voter turnout were recorded in the election districts of Minsk, where in some cases the official turnout figures announced by PECs exceeded by several times the actual number of voters who came to the polling stations and received ballot papers. Such a large-scale use of the most obvious and simple means of election fraud in the city of Minsk may be due to the limited availability of enforcement resources in the capital.
Discrepancy between turnout figures recorded by PECs and observers
Furthermore, in the majority of cases the official turnout rates recorded at those polling stations where there are no observers are higher than the turnout rates recorded at the polling stations that are covered by election monitoring.
At several polling stations located in Minsk (election districts №103 and №108), our observers detected special groups of individuals who repeatedly casted ballots at different polling stations. Moreover, these organized criminal groups were acting with the consent and assistance of some of the members of PECs. Representatives of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign took photos of a group of people who repeatedly casted ballots at different polling stations: №631, №635, №607 and №618.
The above-mentioned failure of the election commissions to ensure proper storage of ballot boxes led to more serious violations related to direct falsification of election results by way of ballot box stuffing. For example, an observer allocated to polling station №625 in Kalinovskiy election district №108 took a photo of ballot box stuffing with a stack of false bulletins and filed a complaint about this fact. However, Minsk city election commission refused to take into consideration the facts presented by the observer, in spite of availability of evidence and video recordings.
On the election day of September 11, a total of 1302 observers representing the «Right to Choose-2016» campaign conducted election monitoring at 622 polling stations located in 24 election districts. They have documented numerous cases of violation of the established procedure for voting and vote tabulation and filed 543 complaints against these violations. Observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign filed a total of 768 complaints over the period of early voting and on the main election day.
In particular, our observers registered 13 cases of violation of the procedure for mobile voting. According to the election commission, as many as 60 voters casted their ballots in just half an hour at the polling station №29 located in Gomel-Tsentralniy election district №33, which is physically impossible. At the polling station №45 located in Brest-Tsentralnyi election district №4, observers recorded discrepancy between the number of applications for mobile voting and the number of voters who voted at home. At the polling station №27 located in Bobruisk-Pervomayskiy election district №79, there were no applications for mobile voting as of 14:15, but nevertheless at 15:05 members of election commission left the territory of polling station together with a mobile ballot box and a large number of ballots for mobile voting. At 17:35 they returned to the polling station: the total number of mobile voters amounted to 200 persons. At the polling station №430 located in Dombrovskiy election district №103, election commission received 6 letters of application for mobile voting, and yet 15 ballot papers were issued to members of PEC who organized mobile voting. Observers filed complaints against above-mentioned violations.
On the main election day, observers continued recording cases of overestimation of turnout figures by election commissions, as well as cases of repeat voting by groups of individuals at different polling stations. On September 11th during the period from 11:00 till 13:00, unprecedented activity of such groups of individuals was recorded in Svisloch election district №94 located in Minsk. Groups consisting of 6-8 women (mostly teachers) were detected in school №129 (polling stations №106 and №107), gymnasium №28 (polling stations №№108-110) and school №123 (polling stations №№111-113). At the polling stations women divided into groups consisting of two persons and voted repeatedly at each of the polling stations. They received ballot papers from members of the commissions who sat at the far side of the table – far away from observers. Later on, observers representing the «Right to Choose-2016» campaign detected the same group of women on the other side of Serebrianka – near the school №134, where polling stations №№ 124-126 are located.
The methodological feature of the “Right to Choose-2016” election observation campaign was the full coverage of polling stations located in 10 election districts for the purpose of comprehensive analysis of discrepancy between turnout figures recorded by observers and precinct election commissions (in other 14 election districts the “Right to Choose-2016” election observation campaign covered only some of the polling stations).
However, due to banning of observers from several polling stations complete data on turnout figures in all of the polling stations was obtained from nine election districts at the time when this preliminary version of final report was prepared (at some of districts the observers data at separate polling station is not complete due to removal of observers from these districts, therefore commission data was taken on hearsay which are marked with an asterisk). Our campaign expects to receive the missing information and present complete data concerning several election districts in the final version of final report at the end of September.
As can be seen from the above, discrepancy between turnout figures recorded by observers and precinct election commissions can have a significant effect on the outcome of the election in those election districts where the «Right to Choose-2016» campaign obtained complete data from all polling stations. This is most evident if we take into account the data on turnout rates for mobile voting: data on turnout figures suggests that the election cannot be considered to have taken place at least at seven out of these nine election districts (Brestskii-Vostochniy election district №3, Vitebskii-Chkalovskii election district №18, Avtozavodskoi election district №92, Chkalovskii election district №96, Dambrovskii election district №103, Vostochnii election district № 107, Kalinovskii election district №108) since the turnout rate in these districts didn’t reach the required 50% of registered voters (even if we take on hearsay the official data on turnout rates for mobile voting).
* At the district №96 observers were dismissed from three polling stations №193, 179, 192 and couldn’t get the copy of final protocol and count the turnout. For turnout count observers took total number of registered voters as of the morning of 11.09, commission and observers data on five days of preliminary voting and turnout of both observers and commission data was counted as 100%.
** At the district №103 observer from polling station №433 was dismissed therefore he could not get the final protocol. For turnout count observers took total number of registered voters as of the morning of 11.09, commission and observers data on five days of preliminary voting, turnout inside the PS premises plus mobile voting data according to commission was counted as 100%.
*** At the district №107 observers at two polling station №584 and 585 had their accreditation revoked. For turnout count observers took total number of registered voters as of the morning of 11.09, commission and observers data on five days of preliminary voting, turnout inside the PS premises plus mobile voting data according to commission was counted as 100%.
In nine cases, the observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign filed complaints against the election commissions that didn’t publish vote counting protocols at the polling stations.
A total of 23 observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign had their accreditations revoked over a 5-day period of early voting, which amounts to 3% of the total number of observers deployed to the polling stations on behalf of organizations-participants of the campaign. Additionally, 30 more observers had their accreditations revoked on the main Election Day. Overall, 53 observers (or 4.07% of the total number of observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign) were either deprived of accreditations or expelled from polling stations, which is 1.5 times more than the number of observers who had their accreditations revoked during 2015 presidential election campaign. In 2015, there were 36 recorded cases of withdrawal of accreditation (or 2.79% of the total number of observers who were deployed to polling stations at that time).
Evidence-free accusations of interference in the activities of election commissions as well as provocative acts by members of PECs and observers of pro-government organizations were the main reasons for expelling observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign from polling stations. The largest number of cases related to expelling observers from polling stations was recorded in Minsk.
Observer of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign was expelled from polling station №179 located in Chkalovskiy election district №96 on the grounds of allegations of taking photos and making audio recordings at the polling station, and the PEC didn’t even invite the observer to the meeting on revocation of his accreditation. At the polling station №195 located in the same election district, members of PEC adopted a decision on revocation of observer’s accreditation without stating any formal reasons for such a decision. At the polling station №585 located in Vostochniy election district №107, our observer was shown a decision of the election commission stating that the observer made an audio recording using a hidden voice recorder pen. Another observer was expelled from one of the polling stations in Senitsa election district №76 on the grounds of allegations of improperly filled out protocol on nomination of observer.
On September 8, the PEC revoked accreditation of observer of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign at the polling station №562 in Minsk due to provocative acts by pro-government observer who deliberately spilled a glass of tea over himself and the observer of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign. After that, he submitted a complaint to the election commission stating that the tea was deliberately spilled by observer of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign. After the incident, a few more pro-government observers filed their complaints against the observer of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign. As a result, members of PEC adopted a decision on revocation of accreditation and observer of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign was expelled from polling station.
The PEC at the polling station №185 located in Chkalovskiy election district №96 came up with an absurd reasoning for revocation of accreditations of two observers representing the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign, namely Anastasia Alshanets-Dorofei and her daughter Marina Alshanets. On September 10, 4:05pm, members of PEC adopted a decision on revocation of accreditations of observers stating the following: “Anastasia Alshanets-Dorofei and Marina Alshanets have a close family relationship and both reside at the same address. The two of them were registered as observers by different organizations. On the basis of the foregoing, Mr.Poznyak proposed to revoke the accreditations of the above-mentioned observers… and deprive them of the opportunity to carry out their duties as observers so as to prevent family biased attitude towards observation of the election process at the polling station.”
On September 11, after the end of voting process an observer representing the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign Leonid Kulakov was detained due to filming the facts of election fraud during vote tabulation at the polling station №626 located in Minsk. His colleague Maya Naumova was also detained and taken to police station. On September 11, observer Pyotr Markelov was expelled from polling station №347 and then detained by police officers. On the same day, three observers were kicked out from polling station №194 located in Chkalovskiy election district №96: the election commission explained it by the fact that observers interfered with the work of the PEC by discussing election observation issues in a whisper.
On September 11, immediately after the end of voting process a total of 11 observers were expelled from polling stations that were covered by the “Right to Choose-2016” election observation campaign. Chkalovskiy election district №96 located in Minsk was the one that suffered the most: local PECs expelled five observers from polling stations №176, №192, №193 and №197. Three observers were kicked out from polling stations №560, №574 and №584 in Vostochniy election district №107. Two observers were not allowed to monitor tabulation of votes in Dombrovskiy election district №103 (polling stations №415 and №421).
In several cases, observers were denied accreditation for no good reason. For example, the PEC at the polling station №621 in Kalinovskiy election district №108 refused to accredit observer of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign who was nominated by public association BPF “Vozrozhdenie” (“Revival”) — the election commission pointed to the fact that public association BPF “Vozrozhdenie” and BPF party seem to be one and the same organization. The observers of the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign filed 8 complaints against non-admission to observation and denials of accreditation. Administration of Gomel State Technical University named after P.Sukhoi banned its students from participating in the “Right to Choose-2016” election observation campaign.
Observers filed 27 complaints against PECs, which failed to provide adequate working conditions for observation of election (observers were deprived of the opportunity to monitor the issuance and casting of ballot papers into the ballot boxes all at the same time) in the course of early voting and on the main election day.
The work of observers in 2016 election campaign was significantly complicated by the adoption of CEC Resolution №57 as of September 10 (on the eve of main election day when the early voting process was already underway), which determined that no more than one observer chosen from among accredited agents of candidate can monitor the election process at each polling station. Meanwhile, in all of the previous election campaigns an unlimited number of candidate’s agents could be present at any of the polling stations. In several cases, this new procedure created hindrances to the carrying out of activities of election observation campaign. In particular, on the morning of September 11th accredited agents of BPF party candidate Ivan Shega were expelled from the polling stations located in Slonim election district №58.
The “Right to Choose-2016” campaign proceeds from the fact that public (open) tabulation of votes is a process where members of PEC show each ballot paper to observers and other members of the election commission. Furthermore, the content of ballot paper should be read aloud, observers should be allowed to see the mark on the ballot paper and in favor of which candidate it was put, each ballot paper should be put into a correct pile for relevant candidate. On September 11, tabulation of votes at the vast majority of polling stations was carried out in opaque and non-transparent manner, observers were deprived of the opportunity to conduct effective monitoring of this procedure (in most cases – they were placed far away from the tables, on which the ballot papers were counted).
Based on the results of election observation, the “Right to Choose-2016” campaign calls on the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Belarus on Elections and Republican Referenda, legislative and executive authorities, including the Ministry of Justice, to take the following measures:
[*] About “Right to Choose-2016” campaign: “Right to Choose-2016” is a campaign for observation of election of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. The main goal of the campaign is to prevent violations of the law at all stages of the election campaign, ensure fixation of committed violations and a prompt response to them. “Right to Choose-2016” observation campaign is an alliance including 8 political and civic organizations: Belarusian Popular Front, Belarusian Christian Democracy, Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (Gramada), Human rights and public awareness non-governmental organization “For Freedom!” Movement”, United Civic Party, Belarusian Party “The Greens”, the organizing committee of the Party of Freedom and Progress, and Belarusian Trade Union of Radio-Electronic Industry.The key difference between “Right to Choose-2016” campaign and observation campaigns conducted by human rights organizations or international observers is its “proactive approach to observation”, which includes mobilization of volunteers not only for the purpose of fixation of violations, but also for active prevention of these violations.
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