Belarusian authorities forced to accept superficial changes to election rules

May 27, 2016 13:29

The Central Election Commission has kept the most criticized by human rights activists and the opposition voting procedures, which enable to guarantee the needed voting results. However, the Belarusian government was forced to make formal and minor concessions to the key demands for changes in the electoral rules. The authorities are likely to refrain from tough actions against the opposition and may somewhat increase the campaigning opportunities for the opposition.

The Central Election Commission has approved the practical guide for the members of precinct election commissions in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The core requirements of the Belarusian human rights activists and the opposition to the election organizers include: ensuring that the opposition is included in the election commissions, restricting early voting and ensuring the transparency of the vote counting. The Belarusian authorities were forced to find a compromise to almost each of these requirements without compromising the overall control over the electoral process.

The new guide envisages the introduction of advisors from representatives of the candidates in the territorial election commissions. The main opposition claim, however, concerns the activities of the election commissions, where the opposition’s representation is likely to be minimal. For instance, the CEC recommended a more transparent procedure for the selection of the electoral committees’ members, which does not mean increasing the representation of the opposition. Earlier, the president emphasised the importance of forming the election commissions from the ‘decent people’, i.e. according to the Belarusian authorities, not from opposition activists. The local election organizers may rightly reject the majority of opposition candidates in the election commissions based on the lack of experience, employment, or administrative offenses resulting from the persecution by the security forces.

The new CEC recommendations include vote counting on the same side of the table, which, however, is unlikely to increase the chances of independent observers to monitor the process. The CEC has not changed the 3 metres rule, i.e. the distance between observers and the table, which does not allow seeing the real results of the vox populi.

The European institutions have supported the opposition and human rights activists’ claims regarding the clarification of criteria for early voting. Independent and party election observers emphasised the likelihood of results falsifications during the early voting, which conventionally provides a disproportionately large percentage of support for the current authorities. That said, with each election campaign the number of early voters has only increased, reaching 36.05% in the latest presidential elections. Amid the overall low turnout (50-60%), especially in large cities, high numbers of support in the early voting have determined the elections’ winner.

The CEC recommendation to use transparent ballot boxes is unlikely to affect the vote rigging during the early voting in the regions.

However, by introducing the regional-level election commissions the CEC’s workload with considering election complaints from the regions will reduce. This novelty may also create a better picture of the elections to the international observers.

That said, the authorities might register non-conflict opposition candidates to increase the turnout in the elections. CEC head Lidziya Yarmoshyna attempted to boost the interest of the opposition and the electorate in the upcoming parliamentary campaign. In an interview with Belarusian ONT TV Channel she pointedly noted the importance of the alternative opinion in the Parliament, “Enhancing political activity still suggests a mandatory presence of the discussion”.

Overall, the Belarusian authorities are likely to somewhat liberalise the environment for the opposition during the parliamentary election campaign. However, they will continue to block the possibilities for the opposition to have some control over the organisation of the elections and the counting of votes.

Image: Jauhien Erchak, 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.