Report №3: Few members of the opposition in the local election commissions in spite of the new election code

Domestic Election Monitoring

Local Elections in Belarus - 25th April 2010
Report №3: Few members of the opposition in the local election commissions in spite of the new electoral code

Domestic election observers bemoan the lack of transparency during the process of building the local election commissions
The make-up of the local election commissions was finalised on 10th March. According to the electoral code, each commission can be made up of between five and 19 members. The commission members are nominated by political parties via party lists, by civil society organisations, by workers’ collectives, and by voters who have collected signatures. In total, 68,881 commission members were appointed, which means that on average 11 people will be working at each of the 6,387 election precincts.
The initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” has a negative assessment of the results of this stage of the election campaign. “The appointment of local election commission members took place in a secretive atmosphere behind closed doors”, says Uladzimir Labkovich, an election observer from the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’. “Most candidates and their representatives were denied access to the executive committee meetings, at which the commission members were appointed”, Labkovich explains.
The opposition nominated, via party lists, around a quarter (604) of a total 2,212 candidates from political parties for the local election commissions. However, the opposition was severely disadvantaged during the candidate selection process: Whilst of the 1,608 members of the parties loyal to the regime 1,496 (93%) were selected for the local election commissions, the opposition saw only 76 of their 604 representatives selected (12.6%).
A further 24 candidates from opposition parties were able to gain a place in the election commissions by gathering signatures. (In total, 26,371 commission members were appointed via this method.) Therefore, the coalition of United Democratic Forces of Belarus, which is comprised of, among others, the Belarusian Party of United Leftists ‘Just World’, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party ‘Gramada’, the United Civil Party, the Party of the Belarusian National Front and the Movement ‘For Freedom’, is represented in the precinct election committees by just 100 party members. This corresponds to around 0.14% of all local election commission members and signals no substantial improvement when compared with the results of the 2008 parliamentary campaign. Two years ago, the opposition were able to occupy approximately 0.07% of the seats in the local election commissions.
Civil society organisations successfully delegated 25,223 representatives to the local election commissions and thereby achieved the quota of at least a third of the commission members envisaged by the new electoral code. According to the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” however, most candidates come from groups which are loyal to the regime, such as ‘Belaya Rus’, the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans or the Belarusian Republican Youth Union. Furthermore, the domestic election observers report that, in the Eastern city of Vorsha, representatives of civil organisations which have previously been politically inactive, such as the Red Cross or the Lifeboat Service, have been accepted into the election commissions in large numbers.
Almost a quarter of the commission members who were selected (15,345) were nominated by workers’ collectives of state companies and public institutions. The domestic election observers from Vitebsk in the east of the country draw attention to the fact that in these cases the candidates are subject to great pressure from their companies. They report that, as a rule, the people working at any one election precinct will be members of the same state institution (e.g. school, hospital, kindergarten etc.) or the same state company. Because the managers of these institutions and companies are often also appointed as the commission chairmen, all commission members, should they step out of line, are then subject to direct pressure from their superior and threatened by the loss of their job.
According to the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” the local executive committees have rejected the nominations of numerous independent candidates, although they have many years of varied experience in election processes. Amongst these candidates, there are many opposition politicians and domestic election observers, as well as respected legal experts, journalists, and political analysts. “This year, the amended electoral code from January 2010 has again led to no improvement in the building of the election commissions”, says Valiantsin Stefanovich, a legal expert at the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ in Minsk. “Our experience shows that the opposition will only have minimal involvement in the election commissions, as long as the electoral code fails to provide precise criteria for the appointment of their members”, Stevanovich emphasises.
The registration of candidates for council seats is currently taking place. This process is being accompanied by an increase in repression of activists and journalists. We will be reporting in detail on this in the next newsletter, which is scheduled for publication on 25th March.
European Exchange, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Centre 'Viasna'