Final analytical report on the results of monitoring the 2015 presidential elections by the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections"
Presidential elections started in 2015 in an environment that was extremely unfavorable to the holding of free and democratic elections: political prisoners were still held in penitentiary institutions, systemic harassment of independent journalists persisted.
A positive tendency became visible after the release of political prisoners in August 2015: there were more opportunities for exercising civil and political rights during the electoral campaign, the authorities created no obstacles to the collection of signatures for nomination of presidential candidates and campaign events.
The Belarusian authorities did not use repression and arrests during mass events that were held by a part of the opposition outside the electoral legislation. However, even the administrative punishment of the organizers of such events in the form of heavy fines violates the right to peaceful assembly, guaranteed by international instruments.
Nevertheless, the election process did not meet a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections. This was due to the lack of equal access to the media for all candidates, the lack of impartiality of election commissions, use of administrative resources in favor of the incumbent, numerous facts of coercion of voters to participate in early voting, the closure of some election procedures for observers.
The most important reason for criticism is the lack of transparency of the vote count, which does not allow to consider the election results as a reflection of the will of voters.
The adverse discrimination of representatives of opposition parties on the part of the state bodies forming the election commissions was evident during the process of their formation. The total number of representatives of opposition parties at the TECs was 10 people, or 0.5% of the total number of members of TECs; their number in the PECs was 31 people, or 0.046% of members of the PECs, which is five times less than in the previous presidential election.
The absence of legally determined criteria for the selection of members of commissions of all levels among the nominated persons provides for the possibility of arbitrary approach to their formation. The absence of such criteria also makes ineffective the EC provision regarding the possibility of the court review of the non-inclusion of nominees to election commissions.
The small number of representatives of political parties in the TECs reflects the specifics of the Belarusian political model in which the main political actors in the election campaigns are representatives of pro-government associations and labor collectives.
Nomination and registration of candidates
Documents for registration were filed by 15 initiative groups of citizens for nomination of presidential candidates, the CEC registered eight of them. Decisions of local executive bodies on the prohibition of certain places for collecting signatures for the nomination of candidates did not significantly limit the opportunities of the initiative groups in public places, but in many cases weren't dictated by the requirements of security and public order.
The authorities did not impose significant restrictions on the collection of signatures, but the role of the executive vertical of power and the administration of state enterprises continued to be very large. The collection of signatures for the nomination of Aliaksandr Lukashenka as a presidential candidate was accompanied by an active use of administrative resources: it was carried out in the workplaces, at enterprises and institutions, often with the direct participation of administrations of these enterprises and institutions.
Non-transparent procedures for verification of signatures and documents give grounds to consider the results of registration as politically motivated. The CEC registered four persons as presidential candidates of the Republic of Belarus: A. Lukashenka, T. Karatkevich, S. Haidukevich, M. Ulakhovich.
The elections didn't become a significant social and political campaign for the Belarusian society, and didn't attract much attention of the electorate. The lack of visual campaigning for presidential candidates is apparently due to the low activity of some candidates, as well as the cessation of the state financing of the production of information materials.
Favorable conditions for electoral campaigning were created in a number of cities, including the capital. At the same time, many observers in the regions say that the local authorities determined completely unsuitable places for campaign events.
The main actors of the electoral process were the incumbent president and the Central Election Commission. A. Lukashenka was beyond competition in the allotted air time and newspaper space.
The administrative resources were actively used in favor of the incumbent president. Pro-government public organizations, funded from the budget, (Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, Belarusian Republican Youth Union and others) actively carried out socio-political activities under the characteristic symbols and in the context of the election program of the incumbent president, which was identified in the minds of citizens with the support of his electoral campaign. These activities were not financed from the election fund of the candidate, which is a violation of the established order of electoral campaigning.
According to the information of the Central Election Commission, early voting was attended by 36.05% of voters - the largest number compared to the previous presidential campaigns of 2001, 2006 and 2010. In fact, early voting has become a norm, which does not meet the requirements of the EC.
During the early voting, observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" registered numerous cases of coercion of citizens to participate in it on the part of management of enterprises and universities. It repeated the negative practices of previous election campaigns.
Cases of overstatement of turnout were registered at many polling stations. According to the information received from our observers at 144 polling stations, the general turnout during the five days of the early voting was 6.2% smaller than the official number. At some polling stations the registered discrepancy in the turnout was more than 50%.
The practice of early voting remains one of the systemic problems of the electoral process, creating opportunities for the use of administrative resources and all kinds of manipulations on any scale. In this regard, the ODIHR recommendations regarding changes to procedures for early voting remain relevant.
Voting at places of voters’ residence
The existing procedures for voting at the places of residence of voters present opportunities for manipulations, too. Observers cannot verify whether a voter has really applied for home voting, since the law allows to request this procedure both orally and in writing.
There were registered cases when voters hadn't applied for home voting and stated it to the members of the PECs who came to their homes with ballot boxes. Sometimes observers weren't given information about the number of voters who had been included in the list for voting at the place of residence. It has been repeatedly noted that the number of electors who had voted at the place of residence didn't match the number of the ballots that were used for it.
Voting at polling stations and vote counting
Voter lists are still closed to observers. A single voter registry has not been created. This creates the conditions for the manipulation of voter turnout.
The election law does not prescribe a method of counting ballots by the precinct election commissions: It does not apply a clear procedure in which a score on each ballot has to be announced aloud and demonstrated to all present PEC members and observers.
The counting of votes at polling stations largely repeated negative practices during the vote counting. More than a half of the observers could not freely observe the counting. In 76.9% of cases the observers could not see the content of ballots. Only 12.2% of complaints filed by observers were considered at the meetings of the PECs.
Appealing against electoral violations
During various stages of the election campaign, appeals and complaints against violations of the EC had no considerable effect on the practice of applying electoral procedures. In some cases, complaints to the CEC about violations in the course of formation of election commissions resulted in substitutions in their structure. However, observers are not aware of any case where a complaint against gross violations at the stage of voting and counting was met by election officials.
Just like in the previous campaigns, the prosecuting authorities evaded the consideration of complaints on the merits, limiting their involvement to forwarding them to the election commissions.
The courts refused to consider complaints, including against the actions of election commissions, if such complaints did not deal with cases directly provided for in the EC.