Local Elections in Belarus - 25th April 2010. Report №4

http://www.dw-world.de/image/0,,1938405_4,00.jpgDomestic Election Monitoring

Local Elections in Belarus - 25th April 2010
Report №4: Opposition members boycott the elections

More and more opposition members boycott the elections
After only a few members of the opposition were accepted onto the local election commissions, the opposition parties’ critical stance on continuing the election campaign is growing. On 21st March the United Civil Party (OGP), one of the most important opposition parties, decided to withdraw the candidates which had been nominated via its party lists from the election campaign. “The decision to pull out of the election campaign is our answer to the brutal practises of the government against candidates for council seats and the election commissions”, explained Anatol Lyabedzka, OGP chairman, to the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”. “By pulling our party structure out of the election campaign, we are also calling for other democratic forces to change the way elections are conducted ahead of the presidential elections”, Lyabedzka told the domestic election observers.
However, the Party of the Belarusian National Front (PBNF) took the decision to let its members in the regions decide for themselves whether they wished to continue the election campaign or not. “The government has secured complete control over the election commissions for itself, and it is showing disdain for the principal of equality and the transparency of the election process”, says Uladzimir Labkovich, legal expert in the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ in Minsk and secretary of the PBNF. He explains his party’s decision thus: “Whilst all the conditions for falsifying the elections during the voting and counting processes are in place, our candidates should nevertheless use the election campaign to forcefully promote democratic values amongst the population,”
The opposition coalition United Democratic Forces of Belarus started discussing a common strategy for the election campaign on 15th March. Other parties who are part of the coalition alongside the OGP and the PBNF will declare their intentions regarding a possible election boycott after 29th March, when the results of the registration of the candidates have been made known.
Growing pressure on opposition politicians and activists in the regions
Independent of their parties’ official positions, several members of the opposition have already broken off the continuation of their election campaign before the official registration deadline. Most candidates explained their withdrawal with the constant pressure from the secret services and with the fear of losing their jobs. According to the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, this meant that all of the PBNF candidates in the south-eastern city of Babruisk withdrew their candidacies. A further seven candidates of the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, three in Babruisk and four in Minsk, resigned because of threats of losing their jobs. In Svetlagorsk, south of Babruisk, two politicians of the Belarusian Party of United Leftists “Just World” announced their withdrawal, because none of their party representatives had been accepted onto the precinct election committees of the election wards where they were hoping to stand.
Ever since the beginning of the election campaign, the initiative „Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections“ has been reporting numerous instances of candidates being put under pressure at their workplaces. One such case is that of the popular activist Mikalai Rasiuk in Magilou. At the 2007 local elections, even the official election count gave him 32% of the vote in spite of the unfair conditions of the election campaign. This year, he was immediately made redundant without reason after his intention to stand for a council seat had been made public. This fate is shared by many campaigners who have collected signatures for opposition politicians and by citizens who have signed the lists.
Two election observers from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Vital Amyalkovich in Sluck and Leanid Markhotka in Saligorsk, have had their accreditation revoked. During the election campaign, another election observer from the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, Sviatlana Rudkouska, experienced unforeseen and unfounded difficulties at her workplace and was made to pay a fine. “The current pressure prevents any free elections”, comments Valiantsin Stefanovich, a legal expert at the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’.
Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the EU want to examine the implementation of the new electoral code during the local elections
The EU-Parliament is expecting an invitation from the Belarusian Central Election Commission to observe the local elections. According to a report from the independent radio station European Radio for Belarus (ERB), EU representatives of Euronest, a planned assembly of MEPs and parliamentarians from the six states of the Eastern Partnership, should assess the implementation of the new electoral code in Belarus during the voting process on 25th April. Kristian Vigenin, Chairman of the European Parliamentary Delegation Euronest, told ERB that the MEPs assessment of the local elections would contribute to the decision on whether the Belarusian parliamentarians, who were elected in 2008 in elections which were not recognised by international organisations, will be invited to participate in Euronest.
Previously, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had announced an examination of the alterations to the Belarusian electoral code. According to a proposal from Sinikka Hurskainen, chair of the Belarus Committee in the political commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission should conduct a thorough analysis of the new electoral code, in order to examine the “actual influence of the alterations taken up at the end of 2009 on the Belarusian legislation’s compliancy with the standards of the Council of Europe”
On Monday 29th March, at 12 o’clock (11am GMT), the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” will be holding a press conference in the office of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, at which the results of the registration of candidates for council seats will be discussed. In the next newsletter, we will give a detailed account of this stage of the election campaign and the possible consequences for the further development of the election process.

Previous reports
Report 1: Human Rights Defenders Start Monitoring the Local Elections
Report 2: Alterations to the Electoral Code
Report 3: Few Members of the Opposition in the Local Election Commissions in spite of the New Electoral Code
The European Exchange, Human Rights Centre "Viasna", Belaruski Helsinki Committee