Observation of the election of the President of Belarus is carried out by activists of the RHRPA "Belarusian Helsinki Committee" and the Human Rights Center "Viasna" in the framework of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections".
The current campaign is for the first time being held under the new rules of public financing. According to the Electoral Code’s version of November 25, 2013, at the expenditures for the production of printed campaigning materials shall be covered solely from the election funds formed by the presidential candidates. The CEC will manufacture and distribute only general information materials on all the presidential candidates.
As of September 16, the availability of election funds has been reported by two candidates: Aliaksandr Lukashenka (202.36 million rubles) and Tatsiana Karatkevich (400,000 rubles). No funds have been received by the election headquarters of candidates Siarhei Haidukevich and Mikalai Ulakhovich.
The rules adopted by local administrative authorities to govern authorized venues for campaigning events (outdoor assemblies, rallies, pickets) have demonstrated the absence of a uniform approach to the definition of these places. In many cities of the country, including in the capital, local governments adopted relatively liberal decisions. At the same time, many observers in the regions say that the venues selected for campaigning events are extremely unpopular among local residents and are usually located far from the town centers.
In general, observers say the campaign is extremely lukewarm and unobtrusive for the voters. The only significant and visible campaigning event was last week’s TV addresses by three of the presidential candidates: Tatsiana Karatkevich, Siarhei Haidukevich, and Mikalai Ulakhovich.
Local authorities have arranged numerous actions and cultural events with the participation of Belarusian popstars, which are attended by heads of local executive authorities. The officials call on the citizens to vote for the incumbent. In particular, the ONT state-run television channel broadcast several concerts in the framework of an action entitled “We Are Together”, using a graphic symbol identical to that used in the production of printed campaign materials of residential candidate and the incumbent Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
The campaign observers in Salihorsk documented preparations by managers of the Belaruskali potash fertilizers giant aimed at exercising administrative control of the employees’ turnout, which constitutes a violation of the electoral law and contains elements of an offense against the constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizen. The violation has been appealed by the campaign’s lawyers to the prosecuting authorities and the Salihorsk district department of the Investigative Committee. They asked to give a legal assessment of the alleged violations.
1. Preparations for the election by local executive authorities
In accordance with the CEC’s Election Schedule, local executive and administrative bodies in coordination with the respective territorial election commissions were to determine no later than September 14 venues to host public events (outdoor meetings, rallies, pickets; to be held under a notification procedure) organized by the presidential candidates and their trustees. These authorities were to determine by September 14 premises for meetings of the presidential candidates and their trustees with voters, as well as for election meetings organized by the voters.
Information provided by the campaign’s long-term observers suggests the absence of a uniform approach of local executive authorities to the selection of venues for campaigning events. In a number of cases, campaigning locations are not popular among local residents and are located far from the town center.
On September 11, the Hlusk district executive committee’s website published decisions Nos. 21-14, 21-15, and 21-16, which determined conditions for election campaigning in the town. According to them, there is only one place for indoor electoral events, the Aryjon cinema, with another venue, the city stadium, for outdoor events. The district center, which has 7,800 residents, will have only three information stands for posting campaigning materials. According to the campaign’s observer, local government has not created adequate conditions for electoral campaigning, which have deteriorated significantly since collecting signatures for the nomination of candidates, when picketing was allowed in a greater number of places.
The Hrodna city executive committee’s decision of September 9 mentioned eight places for posting campaigning materials in the city’s Lieninski district, of which only one can be considered suitable for campaigning, a plaza adjacent to the youth center “Hrodna” in Savieckaja Street. The remaining places are not frequented by the city residents: the remote Kaloža Park, as well as several stadiums owned by high schools and a medical college. Campaigning opportunities in the city’s Kastryčnicki district are as poor: all the eleven locations are desolate. Most of them are playgrounds of local schools.
The Chocimsk district executive committee authorized only one campaigning location in the entire district, the city stadium in Lieninskaja Street. A local activist Valery Karankevich says: “The municipal stadium in Chocimsk is an almost deserted place. Sports are in decline in Chocimsk, and you can only see grazing goats and horses near the stadium. I used to stage pickets there during the 2010 presidential elections and the 2012 parliamentary elections, and there were nearly no people at all there. Back in 2012, police officers detained me on that authorized place during a picket that I staged as a candidate for the House of Representatives. I believe that by their decision the Chocimsk officials have done everything to ban any information about alternative candidates, so that the people could never learn anything about them.”
Locations authorized for campaigning events in the Lieninski and Kastryčnicki districts of Mahilioŭ are still not fit for the purpose. According to the campaign’s long-term observer Barys Bukhel, there is no substantial progress in this respect in comparison with previous elections. “Among new developments, campaigning is allowed near the Hipa hypermarket and the Atlas shopping center in the Kastryčnicki district. The plaza outside the Rublioŭski supermarket can no longer be used for campaigning events. All the other places actually remained from the previous election. The city center is actually banned for campaigning,” said Barys Bukhel.
At the same time, many observers believe that the decisions of the local executive authorities to determine the venues for campaign meetings (both outdoor and indoor), and the locations for the placing printed campaign materials are quite liberal and create suitable conditions for campaigning.
The Minsk city executive committee has published its decision on campaigning locations, as well as a list of premises for meetings of presidential candidates with voters and the list of places where informational boards could be installed. As during the campaign of 2010, campaigning events can be held in any suitable places on the territory of Minsk with the exception of a number of locations and facilities: the metro, pedestrian subways, six central squares, places located near government buildings, court buildings, and childcare facilities.
203 premises have been selected across the city to host meetings of presidential candidates and their trustees with voters, as well as campaign meetings organized by the voters: most of them are assembly halls in education and housing facilities.
Printed campaign products can be placed at the information stands of housing maintenance organizations (including information stands located near the entrances to residential buildings), dormitories, healthcare institutions located on the territory of Minsk.
Placing campaign materials of the candidates for President of the Republic of Belarus on information boards of organizations located in the territory of Minsk, the above list is not defined for the purposes of these places, with the permission of the head of the organization.
In Babrujsk district, presidential candidates and their representatives will be able to campaign out of doors according to a schedule adopted by the executive committee: from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Employees of the department of internal affairs are in charge of maintaining public order in these places. Meetings with voters are mainly allowed outside supermarkets and houses of culture, which are the most popular places among rural residents.
The Bychaŭ district executive committee has created favorable conditions for conducting campaigning events: election activities can be held in the Culture Center, the district center of children's arts, the assembly halls of local organizations and a number of cultural and educational institutions of the district. Campaign materials can be pasted on bulletin boards of TECs, organizations, institutions of culture, education, healthcare and commercial facilities, buildings of village councils, as well as on specially equipped boards installed in the settlements of the Bychaŭ district.
At the stage of campaigning in the regions, activities of the executive authorities and administrations of enterprises have become less noticeable as compared with the period of the collection of signatures and the formation of election commissions.
The "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" campaign has received information from observers in Salihorsk, who argued that on September 9 the administration of the Belaruskali JSC met with its engineering staff – managers and supervisors of all levels. The meeting was attended by the company’s director general Ivan Halavaty, his deputy for ideology and personnel Anatol Makhlai, and the director of the first mine, Aliaksandr Harbachou. “What I demand from you as your boss and will try to control as much as possible is the turnout on the election day. All heads of units will be obliged to report to their supreme heads about the turnout of their subordinates. It is not that hard, taking into account the existence of the mobile phone communication. What is yet better, do not leave this for the last day if you are not sure you will be able to vote on the day of the elections,” said Mr. Harbachou.
Such actions violate the constitutional right of the voters to decide personally whether to take part in the elections or not, and contain elements of an offense against the constitutional rights and freedoms.
2. Election campaigning
The rules of campaigning activities by the presidential candidates is set by the Electoral Code and the CEC regulations. It is forbidden to disseminate “propaganda of war, appeals for forcible change of the constitutional system, violation of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Belarus, insults or slander in relation to official persons of the Republic of Belarus and other candidates for the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus,” as well as calls to encourage or having aims to urge the disruption or cancellation or postponement of the elections. Any other restrictions and prohibitions are arbitrary. However, Article 49 of the Electoral Code bans as illegal calls for the abandonment of committing electoral actions.
Resolution No. 49 of the Central Election Commission of August 6, 2015 approved regulations on the use of mass media in the preparation and conduct of elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus in 2015.
In accordance with the Regulations, the presidential candidate is entitled to two free-of-charge performances on the TV channel “Belarus 1” and two free-of-charge performances on the First National Channel of the Belarusian Radio. Duration of one performance may not exceed 30 minutes. The speeches cannot use additional audio or video materials. The airtime for the speeches is available on weekdays: on television – from September 14 to 25, from 7 to 8 p.m., on the radio – from September 21 to October 2, from 6.10 to 7.10 p.m. The date and time of airing TV and radio programs with the campaign speeches of each of the presidential candidates is determined in accordance with the draw, which should be conducted by the CEC. TV and radio broadcasts with pre-election speeches of presidential candidates and debates shall be live, but can be recorded and broadcast later if a presidential candidate has chosen the option.
Resolution No. 66 of the Central Election Commission of September 10 determined schedules for the distribution of airtime for the presidential candidates’ campaign speeches on television and radio.
As of September 20, televised addresses were presented by three candidates: Siarhei Haidukevich, Tatsiana Karatkevich, and Mikalai Ulakhovich. Debates will be held in accordance with the Electoral Code, after participation in them was announced by all candidates except for Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who effused to take part in the debates.
The presidential candidate has the right to freely publish their election program in the government-owned newspapers "Sovetskaya Belorussia", "Respublika", "Narodnaja Hazieta", "Zviazda", "Minskiy Kurier", "Zara", "Vitebskiye Vesti", “Homieĺskaja Praŭda”, “Hrodzienskaja Praŭda", "Minskaja praŭda", and "Mahilioŭskija viedamasci". In the publication of election programs complied with the order of their receipt.
In accordance with Article 46 of the Electoral Code, “journalists and official persons of mass media shall be prohibited to conduct information television and radio programs or take part in informing about elections through such mass media if the above persons are candidates for the position of the President of the Republic of Belarus, or their proxies.” In violation of these requirements, a trustee of presidential candidate Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Henadz Davydzka, chairman of the Belarusian TV and Radio Company, participated as the host in the show "Club of Editors", which, among other things, covered the topic of elections.
The current election campaign is being conducted under the new rules of public financing. Previously, the rules governed the local elections in 2014. In accordance with the Electoral Code’s version of November 25, 2013, the CEC is in charge of establishing the rules of allocation and utilization of funds allocated from the national budget for the preparation and conduct of elections, and voluntarily donated to the extrabudgetary funds. These funds will, in particular, be used to manufacture and distribute informational materials about the presidential candidates. In accordance with Article 13 of the Electoral Code, the CEC manufactures general posters with biographical details of the presidential candidates to be placed at the polling stations and other designated locations. It also produces informational materials about the candidates for the President of the Republic of Belarus to be sent to the voters.
In accordance with the new version of Article 48-1, the candidates shall bear expenses of election campaigning (in the previous edition – additional costs). In this regard, the maximum size of expenditures from the election fund of a presidential candidate cannot exceed 9,000 basic units (previously 3,000 basic units). The candidate may donate up to 100% of this amount, an individual – up to 20 basic units, and a legal entity – up to 50 basic units.
According to the CEC, as of September 16, the availability of election funds was reported by two candidates: Aliaksandr Lukashenka (202.36 million rubles) and Tatsiana Karatkevich (400,000 rubles.
Observers report the absence of visual campaigning materials for presidential candidates. Obviously, this is due to the fact that, according to the Election Schedule, the state should complete the manufacturing of informational materials about the candidates to be sent to the voters and the general posters with the biographical information of the candidates for the President of the Republic of Belarus only on September 23. These posters will be placed at the polling stations and other designated locations. Thus, a significant part of the campaign period will be spent without printed campaign materials, unless the candidates produce them at the expense of their election funds.
The Supreme Court of Belarus rejected a complaint by former presidential contender Viktar Tsiareshchanka against a decision of the CEC to refuse to register him as a presidential candidate. Decisions of the Supreme Court are not subject to appealing.
Natallia Smakhvalava, observers accredited with the Mahilioŭ district TEC, was not provided with information on the composition of local precinct election commissions. The observer complained against the violation of Article 13 of the Electoral Code in connection with the violation of the principle of transparency and openness in the conduct of elections. The Mahilioŭ district TEC found no violations and rejected the appeal.