Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт


Valiantsin Stefanovich: Six reasons why it is impossible to hold democratic, free and transparent elections in Belarus

At a polling station. Photo taken from
At a polling station. Photo taken from

June 30, the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus determined the date for presidential elections - October 11, 2015. Thus, the country has begun a regular presidential election campaign, a constant participant of which the current hed of th the state, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, has been since 1994.

Today we publish the reasons for which, according to the deputy chairman of the Human Rights Centre "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich, it is impossible to hold democratic, free and transparent elections in Belarus.

We hear many statements of the country's intention to hold these elections "quietly" and in full accordance with national law and international standards of free and democratic elections. But is it possible in today's Belarus? Having observed the elections in the country since the late '90s, including the presidential election campaign 2001, 2006, 2010, I believe that it is unlikely for the following reasons.

Reason 1. Lack of Competitive Political Process

In Belarus, a public and competitive process ceased to exist long ago. Under such political system the elections turned into a set of administrative procedures, that actually do not provide the right of citizens to participate in the government of the country and the right to elect the government. Our elections are increasingly approaching the Soviet standards of elections, the main component of which is a predetermined result and a good buffet. This is particularly evident during the parliamentary and local elections, when voters are "asked" to take part in the voting at the place of work or study, can not remember the names of the candidates for whom they voted on the next day after the elections, and do not care to learn the names of the winners of the election.

Reason 2. Monopolization of Media

The holding of democratic and free elections implies not only the presence of a transparent electoral procedures, it is impossible to hold free elections in unfree society, in a society where there is no room for pluralism and transparency, and in which political opponents, including those who participated in the previous elections, are held in prison.

How can a real alternative to the current government, holding monopoly on the media, appear? The emergence of alternative candidates on television in a couple of so-called election TV debates (pre-recorded) does not affect the overall situation on the background of boundless information, administrative and financial resources available to the incumbent president. No candidate funds can help here. Who will finance the campaigns of alternative candidates in a country where the share of the state economy reaches 80% and private business is cowed? And we can only guess what will happen with the businessmen and their business, if they openly dare to fund such candidates (since anonymous donations are prohibited).

Reason 3. Absence of Independent Election Commissions

It is no secret that the elections in Belarus are not held by the Central Election Commission (CEC), and not even by its chairperson, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, but by the presidential vertical. It is the executive committees of all levels, heads of state-owned enterprises, universities and their ideologists who are the main organizers of the elections. It is them who are responsible for the formation and composition of election commissions at all levels, ensuring the voters' turnout and appropriate voting results.

The formation of Commissions from representatives of the same workforce provides reliability and control. Oppositionists do not belong there. Therefore, the Commissions get extremely few persons nominated by opposition parties. Executive committees are free to decide who to include and who not to. Moreover, the criteria for candidates for the Commission are not defined by law. Therefore, it is impossible to challenge the non-inclusion of a person in an election commission. The organizers of the elections (who have the largest representation in the election commissions) have traditionally been such massive government organizations as Belarusian Republican Youth Union, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, the Women's Union, the NGO "Belaja Ruś" and the Belarusian public association of veterans.

Reason 4. Early Voting

According to the electoral law, each voter who is unable to vote on election day may vote in advance for five days. The people aren't required to provide any documents that would confirm the inability to take part in elections in the main day.. In practice, this leads to unrestricted use of administrative resources by the authorities in the form of "organized" early voting of students, military personnel, residents of workers' hostels and workers of state enterprises. Often it is accompanied by actual compulsion to such a vote and violates the principle of voluntary participation in the elections if the voter decides whether to take part in the voting.

Traditionally, the number of early voters in the elections in the country is 20% to 30% of the electorate! It seems that the authorities are using early voting not only to ensure attendance in the elections, but also to perform other tasks. No wonder Yarmoshyna categorically refused to grant the requests of citizens about the installation of video cameras at polling stations, which would observe the safety of the ballot boxes 24 hours a day.

Reason 5. Non-transparent Counting of Votes

The non-transparent counting procedure is perhaps the biggest problem of our electoral system legislation and is most criticized both by national and international observers.

Indeed, the way the vote count should take place, is not spelled out in the Electoral Code. Each commission itself determines this order. The only requirement is a separate vote count: first a commission must count the ballots from the boxes for early voting, then from the ballot boxes for votng at the place of residence on election day, and then - the ballots from the ballot box for votng on election day. Thereby, the results of this calculation (separately for each ballot box) are just voiced by the Commission, but the protocol on the voting results indicates only the overall result. What for? So that it would be no documentary evidence of sometimes surprising imbalance of the distribution of votes in the early voting and voting on election day between the candidate from power and alternative candidates. One cannot present words as evidence in court.

As a rule, the poll is counted by all members of the commission at once. Each of them counts a small stack of ballots, writing the results of the calculation on paper and passing the the chair of the commission. The head of the commission sums up all the results and fills in the final protocol. Thus, it is impossible to check whether such results correspond to a real counting of votes. Moreover, there are no persons who would do it (see the section telling about the formation of the election commissions).

Under this system, not only obsevers, even members of the commissions do not know the outcome. For this reason, national observers, representatives of opposition parties, as well as ODIHR insist that the electoral code was assigned such an order of counting, when the ballots are counted by one member of the commission and each ballot is shown to all members of the commission, observers and other persons who have the right to attend the counting of the votes. Such procedure of counting is also spelled out in the Convention on standards of democratic elections, electoral rights and freedoms of the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States, signed in Chisinau October 7, 2002 and ratified by the Republic of Belarus January 4, 2014.

Reason 6. Inability to Fully Observe All Electoral Procedures

As we have repeatedly noted during the observation of the elections of different levels, entire stages of the election campaign are hidden from observers. We have always stated that the observer must have the right to attend and obtain the necessary information about all electoral procedures and at all stages of the election, but in practice the situation is different. For example, observers are traditionally not allowed to observe the checking by the territorial (district) election commission at check of the signatures collected by electoral teams to nominate candidates for deputies or for the presidency. Thus, the observers can not observe this procedure. Meanwhile, the Election Code contains a sufficiently detailed description of the way in which such verification takes place and which signatures and signature lists are declared invalid. Thus, the authorities have ample opportunities for uncontrollable manipulation while checking the collected signatures, which implies registration or non-registration of candidates depending on the current aims.

The observers who are registered in the territorial commissions are also traditionally denied the right to be present in these commissions at the time of transfer of the final protocols and ballots to polling stations. This part of the process is completely non-transparent, closed, and can be accompanied by various manipulations and "adjustment" of the received protocols.

But most importantly, observers are unable to observe the counting of votes. All that an observer can see at a polling station is the backs of the members of the election commission who silently count the ballots (see the section regarding the counting of votes). Under this system of counting an observer can in no way see the even an approximate result.

In addition, the observer is not issued a copy of the protocol, signed by the members of the commission and sealed by it. Accordingly, any copy of the protocol, produced by an observer, can not have the force of evidence of fraud in a higher election commission or a court. It's just a piece of paper with the numbers that are "imagined" by the observer. Meanwhile, reports sometimes contain figures that contradict one another and indicate the possible falsification of results as a result of the “bad calculations” of the election commission.

Yet, it is impossible to find information about the results of the vote across the country with separate results for each polling station in the country, since such information is not placed anywhere in public, depriving sociologists, political scientists and observers of the opportunity to analyze the data.

Follow the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" on our website,