Belarusian authorities bar opposition out from organization of parliamentary elections

July 26, 2016 0:09

The Belarusian authorities have composed territorial and district election commissions of representatives of quangos, pro-government political parties, and government officials with minimal opposition representation. The Belarusian leadership anticipates having full control over the election campaign and its results. The authorities, however, are ready to demonstrate greater transparency in the election process to international observers.

The authorities have formed 110 district and 6149 precinct election commissions, 49 of which outside the country. In seven territorial commissions, 144 persons have been competing for 91 seats and in district - 2014 persons for 1430 seats. On average, the competition ranged from 1.2 persons/seat in the Grodno region to 2 persons/seat in the Mogilev region. Of the overall candidates, the opposition has nominated about 11% in the territorial and 6.7% in the district commissions.

The number of nominees to election commissions from the opposition has somewhat reduced. For instance, this year, opposition parties put forward 150 applications in territorial and district, compared with 199 in 2012 in district commissions only. This could either be due to the overall reduction in the number of activists, or because the opposition has decided to nominate more candidates or to have greater campaigning capacity.

According to human rights defenders, election officials have fine-tuned formal selection procedures. Unlike during previous election campaigns, the selection process for election commission members was more elaborate, in some cases, it included interviews and collegial decisions. Nevertheless, despite all novelties, voting was still a formality. In addition, deputy chairs on ideology from local executive committees are leading many district election commissions. Independent analysts have noted that the composition of election commissions have remained virtually unchanged as compared with the previous presidential election - regardless of more transparent and improved recruitment procedures. That said, the share of opposition representatives in the district election commissions reduced from 3% in 2012 to 1.8% in 2016.

As predicted, among the most common reasons for not selecting applicants from the opposition to the electoral commissions were the administrative record and the lack of positive characteristics from the place of residence or work. In addition to the absence of clear legal selection criteria for election commission members, according to human rights defenders, when considering applicants, officials were clearly more loyal to pro-government candidates.

Exclusion rate for opposition candidates in election commissions remains very high compared with the pro-government contenders - 31.2% at territorial level and 19.4% at the district level.

The total share of political parties representatives (opposition and pro-government) in the election commissions (24.2% in territorial and 13.6% in district commissions) is much smaller than of public associations (51% and 54.3%, respectively).

In addition, CEC head Lydia Yarmoshina promised to come back to the issue of greater transparency during the vote count after the parliamentary elections. Which means, that the vote counting practice widely criticised by domestic and international observers will be preserved during the upcoming parliamentary elections: “the commissions will not demonstrate each ballot while counting. To do this, the law needs to be amended, because the counting procedure is spelled out there”.

Overall, improvements in the formal selection procedures and greater transparency in the selection process has not enhanced the opposition representation in the election commissions. The Belarusian authorities rather aim to hold the upcoming election campaign in compliance with the current practice, using administrative resources in order to ensure the required turnout and support for pro-government candidates.

Image: Jauhien Jerčak, TUT.BY

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.