Domestic Election Monitoring
Local Elections in Belarus - 25th April 2010
Report №2: The alterations to the Electoral Code
This week’s report deals with those alterations to the Belarusian electoral code, which was adopted on 4th January 2010, which are relevant for the upcoming elections to the local councils. The most important alterations relate to:
1: Broadening domestic election observers’ opportunities for observation;
2: The creation of a balance in the election commissions between representatives of independent parties and organisations, and officials who are loyal to the regime;
3. Improved appeal possibilities;
4: Broader possibilities for the election campaign;
5: The liberalisation of the registration of candidates for council seats;
6: Improved transparency in the early voting procedures.
1. Broadening domestic election observers’ opportunities for observation
According to the new electoral code, not only official party members or members of civil organisations, but also their representatives can be accredited as election observers. “This alteration is first and foremost important because NGO and party membership in the regions is very tightly controlled by the local authorities”, says Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. “For this reason, many activists are not official members of their organisations. Now it is more straightforward for activists of this kind to receive their accreditation as election observers”, comments Hulak.
He does however point to the fact that any real opportunities for observing the vote submission and above all the vote counting process are highly restricted. “A large number of election observers does not necessarily automatically improve the quality and the transparency of the election process”, emphasises Hulak. “A collective vote counting process carried out by the members of the commissions, such as we have been proposing for some time, has not been taken up into the new electoral law”, says the Belarusian expert. “It is still the case today, that each commission member only counts one pile of ballot papers and so cannot judge whether the collated result in the report can actually be accounted for”, explains Hulak.
2. Balance in the election commissions between independent parties and organisations, and officials who are loyal to the regime
According to the new electoral code, the number of representatives from political parties and civil organisations should be brought up to at least a third of the commission members, and the number of officials should also be reduced to a third. The remaining seats should be occupied by representatives of workers’ committees and by candidates who have collected at least ten signatures. In addition, judges, state lawyers and the chairmen of the executive committees and the supervisory authorities are forbidden from becoming members of the election committees. (More on this topic can be found in Newsletter №1 from 04.03.2010.)
3. Improved appeal possibilities
Since the alteration to the law, the possibilities for lodging an appeal against the refusal of a candidate’s registration for the election commission have been improved: The executive committees are bound by the new electoral code to make the documentation of the decision-making process concerning the nomination of election commission candidates publicly accessible. Furthermore, organisations and people who have proposed candidates are able to challenge refusals in court.
The possibility for lodging a complaint against the election results has however not been improved with the change to the law. “It is practically impossible to appeal against the election results in individual election wards” – states Aleh Hulak.
4. Broader possibilities for the election campaign
According to the new electoral code, supporter groups can collect signatures for proposing a candidate in all places, where the collection of signatures has not been explicitly banned by the responsible executive committee. The initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” reports however, that the collecting of signatures has already been outlawed in most of the cities’ central areas and streets, at stations, in most hospitals and student dormitories, and in other densely populated areas.
According to the initiative “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, it has however, compared with the situation during the parliamentary elections in 2008, been made easier to conduct the election campaign in public buildings. “It is easier to get a permit for indoor election events”, emphasises Aleh Hulak. “The authorities have to issue such a permit within three days”. The Belarusian Human Rights Defender does however make the point that the organisation of an election event continues to be subject to the restrictive rules of the law governing large public events.
The new electoral law also removes the ban on several candidates holding election campaign events together, which led to a number of opposition politicians withdrawing from the election campaign during the 2008 parliamentary elections. The new law permits the organisation of joint election events involving a number of candidates and the publication of joint leaflets and posters.
5. Liberalisation of the registration of candidates for council seats
The new electoral code liberalises the process of candidate registration. The rejection of a candidacy can only occur if the responsible executive committee judges more than 5% of the signatures which the candidate has submitted to be invalid or finds his declaration of assets to be erroneous. The old electoral code was far more restrictive in this respect. The relevant registration authority was previously able to bar a candidate from standing for election on the basis of a small inaccuracy in his documentation, such as in his CV.
6. Improved transparency in the early voting procedures
The early voting procedures begin five days before the actual election day. The new electoral code envisages that both the ballot boxes be sealed and that the registered election turnout be published daily. Furthermore, the number of votes from the early submissions and from home voting should be noted separately in the final report.
“It is true that the alterations which have been made to the electoral code are an important step towards democratisation of the Belarusian election process. They do not though go so far as to substantially change the entire process”, says Hulak. “However, if there did exist the political will to conduct free elections, then the law would absolutely encourage such an election process”, states Aleh Hulak.
On 10th March, the formation of the precinct election commissions was completed. In the next newsletter we will be analysing this important stage of the election process. (Precinct election commissions are responsible for, among other things, the submission and vote counting processes.) In addition to this, we will be reporting on the results of the registration of candidates for the council seats – this process should be completed on 15th March.