Yesterday at 8pm, the polling stations were closed in Belarus after six days of voting. The network of independent domestic election observers “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, in which 130 activists, legal experts and journalists in all regions of the country have been participating, is reporting enormous levels of election manipulation both during the early voting process and on election day. “Neither the voting nor the counting processes were carried out in accordance with the Belarusian electoral code”, says Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee in Minsk. “We recognise the elections as neither fair nor free.” According to the domestic election observers’ latest estimates, only six of up to 365 opposition candidates were voted onto the local councils. The final results are to be published on Friday 30th April.
Scarcely any opposition candidates elected to the regional councils
According to the central election commission’s official figures, the election turnout was 79.1%. During the early voting process, which began on Tuesday 20th April, and which, according to official figures, 29.3% of voters took part in, there were already numerous contraventions of the electoral code and of international standards, which were reported by the domestic election observers. On the Sunday of the election, when 49.8% of voters went to the polls, the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” also observed significant acts of manipulation and falsification of the election results in all regions of the country.
According to the domestic election observers’ latest figures, there are currently only up to six opposition candidates, three from the Belarusian Party of United Leftists ‘Just World’ and three from the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, who have succeeded in being elected onto the local councils.
Early voting process under the control of the state apparatus
On 23rd April, Mikalay Lazavik, secretary of the central election commission, explained to the independent news agency Belapan that there had so far been “practically no signs of any irregularities” in the election process. However, the domestic election observers’ reports from all regions of the country contradict this statement. They state that, above all, the state apparatus (local authorities, the secret service KGB, the internal revenue, the state-controlled media and companies, and public institutions), had been mobilised to ensure a high turnout even before the day of the elections. In this way, the massive falsification of the ballot papers, which lay for over five days in the non-transparent ballot boxes, and the fraudulent alteration of the election results were made possible (for more, see report №7).
„Although everyone knows that the local elections in Belarus are particularly unpopular, according to official figures, around 25% of the voters still go to the polls and vote early”, says Valiantsin Stefanovich, legal expert and member of the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”. “The high election turnout during the early voting process is evidence of the fact that the early voting was organised by the state apparatus and conducted under repressive conditions”.
In all regions of the country, local executive committees decided to call together various “advisory boards”, “coordination points” and “curators” directly before the start of the early voting process, whose official role was supporting the election commissions. In this manner, the state apparatus ensured that it had direct influence over the actions of the local and regional election commissions, the domestic election monitors’ reports state.
The local authorities’ high level of dedication to ensuring a high early turnout is confirmed by more extraordinary measures taken in the regions. For example, in Baranavichy, advertisements promoting early voting could be seen on public transport. In Grodna, the private mobile phone provider MTS even sent text messages on behalf of the executive committee calling for people to take part in the early voting process, without mentioning the possibility of voting on election day. In Polack, Babruisk and Magiliou, as well as in other places throughout the country, the state-controlled media ran a powerful advertising campaign for the early voting process.
Organised voting at universities and within state companies
The election turnout was reported as being particularly high in those precincts where the majority of registered voters worked for a particular company or studied at a particular university and took advantage of the cheap accommodation at these institutions (boarding schools, student houses etc.). In these instances, the employees and students could count on reduced working hours or shortened lesson times, as soon as they had cast their early vote. Especially high election turnouts were also reported in closed electoral districts (barracks, maternity clinics etc.), to which the domestic election observers only had limited access. For example, 85% of the students at the institute of the committee for state security (KGB) cast their votes early. In addition, students at all of the Minsk universities who live in state-owned student accommodation were already forced to vote on the Friday. Their participation in the election was directly controlled by the heads of department and monitored with name lists hung up in the deaneries. Similar cases of disproportionately high election turnouts of 40% to 60% were registered in the cities of Magiliou, Mazyr, Saligorsk and Polock.
No votes for opposition candidates during the early voting process
According to the currently election result estimates, some opposition candidates in Gomel, Magiliou and Polock failed to receive any votes during the early voting process in any of the precincts where they were standing. On election day however, they did, according to the official protocols, receive between 10% and 20% of the votes. This is an indicator of possible falsification of the ballot papers during the earlier stage of the election.
Serious irregularities during the voting process and the counting of the ballot papers were also reported by domestic election observers from other regions of the country. In most electoral districts where the candidates loyal to the regime were forced to compete for votes against opposition politicians and activists, stark discrepancies were registered between the results from the early voting process and the votes cast on election day. Many members of the opposition who received the majority of the votes cast on election day still saw themselves defeated because of the results from early voting or from mobile voting done at home (Saligorsk, Barysau).
In addition, the domestic election observers also report of enormous falsification of ballot papers during the voting process conducted with mobile ballot boxes. For example, in one precinct in Gomel, 238 elderly and unwell people were allegedly visited at home by representatives of the election commission in the space of two hours. This is an unrealistic figure and a clear indication of electoral fraud. In Minsk, people who have been dead for years apparently submitted requests themselves for mobile voting from home. There were also many voters who were surprised by the visits from the commission members coming to their homes, because they had evidently not asked for a mobile vote. Similar cases were also registered in other regions, above all in electoral precincts where opposition candidates were standing for election.
Arrests and extensive tax checks target the opposition
During the last few days of the election campaign in Belarus, there were many arrests of opposition candidates and their supporters. For example, the young politician from the Party of the Belarusian National Front (PBNF), Franak Viachorka, was arrested in Mazyr on 24th April, when he intervened as a member of the election commission tried to cover up his campaign posters. Two other supporters of another PBNF candidate, Vintsuk Viachorka, were arrested whilst distributing campaign materials. Another candidate from the United Civil Party in Grodna, Dzmitryi Bondarchuk, was arrested because of his alleged involvement in a car accident. All of these candidates and activists were released after questioning.
The domestic election observers also report that some candidates who are critical of the regime and other opposition activists’ having their houses searched and tax records investigated. One example of this occurred in the Lida Rayon in the west of the country, where the flat of Siargey Trakhimchyk, candidate for the movement “For Freedom”, was searched by the secret service (KGB) on 23rd April. Previously, Aliaksandr Irho, a candidate from the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Narodnaya Gramada”, was subject to an extensive tax investigation.
Information withheld and election monitoring restricted
During the final days before election day on 25th April, the restrictions placed on election monitoring by accredited domestic election observers and representatives of candidates in Orsha, Grodna and Minsk were already growing stronger and stronger. This tendency was also further confirmed on the Sunday of the elections. Many election observers were either prevented from properly monitoring the vote-counting process, or they were removed from the polling station by the police (Minsk, Babruisk, Grodna).
Enormous manipulation in the precincts on the Sunday of the election
During the voting process on 25th April, cases were registered in all regions of the country of voting without prior identification checks, and of individuals voting for multiple people. In electoral district № 20 in Minsk, ballot paper templates were provided in the voting booth, which unambiguously suggested voting for the candidate loyal to the regime.
Furthermore, election commission members often conducted no separate count of the votes from each of the various ballot boxes, of those from the early and mobile voting processes and from the votes on election day. (Glubokaye, Minsk). In Baranavichy and Zhlobian, the domestic election observers recorded that the ballot boxes were not satisfactorily sealed. According to the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, ballot boxes were removed from a large number of precincts and stored at unknown locations. Further irregularities were recorded in Gomel and Berastse (Brest) concerning the way the result protocols were written up – the protocols were either written up in pencil and later amended, or even signed by the commission members before any numbers had been entered and then filled in by the heads of the election commissions. In addition, in Magiliou, the ballot papers and the result protocols were taken out of the precincts and sent to the city authorities, rather than being handed to the regional election commission.
Election observers and candidates demand that the elections in some electoral districts be declared void
In the Maladechna Rayon, north of Minsk, the domestic election observers are appealing against the recognition of the election results in three electoral districts where candidates loyal to the regime were also members of the election commissions. Also in Minsk, the candidate from the movement “For Freedom”, Aliaksandr Lagvinec, is demanding that the election result in his electoral district be annulled. Lagvinec cites as cause for his appeal the withholding of information concerning the number of voters who were registered in each electoral precinct, the falsification of voter lists, and interference with his election campaign through unlawful decisions taken by the regional election commission. Another five appeals against the election results have been lodged by candidates from the Belarusian Social Democratic Gramada (BSDG). The central election commission now has three days to make its first verdict on the appeals submitted.
The previous editions of the newsletter can be found on the European Exchange website:
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
Report 4: Members of the Opposition Boycott the Elections