Observation of the presidential elections of the Republic 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".
- Nomination teams continue collecting signatures in support of future presidential candidates. In order to be registered, the candidate’s nomination team should gather 100,000 signatures by 21 August inclusive. The territorial election commissions are receiving documents for the nomination of members to polling station election commissions.
- Observers stress an extremely low-key nature of the election campaign: the activity of actors involved in the election process is low-key nature observed mainly in regional centers and large cities, voters do not show a clear interest in the process of collecting signatures, members of the opposition candidates’ nomination groups do not report significant obstacles in their work.
- Abuse of administrative resources is reported across the country in order to gather signatures for the nomination of the incumbent.
COLLECTION OF SIGNATURES
Observers report the overall low activity of nomination groups in collecting signatures for the nomination of future presidential candidates. In the regions, the activity is uneven: in some places it has declined, in others – remained high.
Activists of the United Civil Party, the Social Democratic Party "Hramada," the Fair World Party, and the campaign "Tell the Truth!" stage daily pickets to gather signatures in Babrujsk. The level of nomination activity has not considerably reduced in the Homieĺ region. According to observers, local authorities arrange small entertaining events, e.g. performances of children’s dance and song groups, next to nomination pickets in order to draw public attention to the campaign.
The campaign headquarters have received numerous reports of the administrations of government-owned enterprises across the country forcing employees to sign in support of Lukashenka during the working hours. In particular, it happened in the workshops of the Homieĺ branch of the Belarusian Railway, at the Dobruš porcelain factory, the Dobruš paper mill and bakery (on August 12, local newspaper Dobrušski Kraj published an article featuring a photo of the event). Representatives of the Žodzina-based BelAZ enterprise collected signatures in support of the President during working hours. Similar violations were documented at the Navapolack-based Naftan oil refinery and the Paliessieeliektramaš enterprise in Luniniec. Those in charge of collecting signatures, including representatives of the employer, carry signature sheets with the voters’ personal data already filled in. If people refuse to sign, the campaigners cite a nomination plan. Such facts were reported in Babrujsk, Mahilioŭ, Kryčaŭ, at the poultry factory in Smaliavičy and in other places.
Some members of nomination groups actively use the election campaign to bring attention to political issues. Members of the nomination groups of Anatol Liabedzka and Tatsiana Karatkevich wore T-shirts with the image of Mikalai Statkevich in Babrujsk to mark the political prisoner’s birthday, his portraits were placed at their pickets, they told about the political prisoner in conversations with the citizens.
A clear political motive is demonstrated by the nomination campaign of Anatol Liabedzka. Back on August 4, members of his campaign team staged a picket in front of the KGB’s building in Minsk, where they handed out campaign materials, expressed demands to release political prisoners. On August 12, the Minsk city territorial election commission asked Viktar Karniayenka, head of Anatol Liabedzka’s election headquarters, to refrain from distributing campaign materials and not to violate the law. The demand has not changed the position of the UCP’s leader campaigners, but no legal consequences have yet arisen. Anatol Liabedzka, Chairman of the United Civil Party and a potential presidential candidate, said that, if his candidacy is registered, he will withdraw his nomination at the last stage of the elections.
The Homieĺ Regional TEC has considered a complaint by Viktar Khomich, member of Siarhei Kaliakin’s nomination team, against the administration of the Prudkoŭski market which banned the collection of signatures on July 29. The meeting was attended by the heads of all the district TECs of Homieĺ and a representative of the market’s management. As a result, the Commission issued a warning to the market’s chief manager Mikhail Haurychenka and explained certain provisions of the electoral law. The Commission also ordered that the district TECs should strengthen activities aimed at explaining the electoral legislation.
On August 15, the CEC head Lidziya Yarmoshyna took part in the 6th extraordinary national conference of the Belarusian Union of Women, a member of the presidium of which she is. In her speech for the reporters, she highlighted some of the issues of this year’s election, in particular, saying that the election campaign is "pretty calm", with a small number of complaints received by election officials. The CEC head emphasized that the actions of some of the nomination teams were provocative and aimed at ensuring that their candidates were scandalously disqualified. According to the BelTA news agency, the Belarusian Union of Women event, was meant to confirm the social and political position of the organization, which coincides with the current policy of the Belarusian authorities. In the upcoming elections, the Belarusian Union of Women will support Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
The public involvement of the CEC head in the work of an organization that aims to publicly support the election of one of the candidates does not comply with the principle of independence of the Central Election Commission, the body responsible for the conduct of elections.
OBSTACLES IN OBSERVATION
According to representatives of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" working in the regions, TECs are often reluctant to contact with the observers. The election officials do not allow them to attend the reception and verification of signature sheets, all the current work of the election commissions is actually not transparent. Observers report obstacles from either heads or members of the TECs of the Partyzanski district of Minsk, the Lieninski and Kastryčnicki districts of Hrodna, as well as the TECs of Brest and Žodzina.
At the same time, there are exceptions: secretary of the Mahilioŭ district TEC reports precise information about the number of collected signatures, and time of the commission meeting. Observers in Babrujsk say they receive necessary information from the TEC of the Lieninski district.
The TECs have been involved in the accreditation of observers. For example, the territorial commissions of the Viciebsk region have accredited 76 observers, of whom more than 85% are representatives of public associations. Most nominees represent the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, the Public Association of Veterans of the NGO "Belaya Rus".
MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE ELECTION
The government-owned media are widely covering the activities of President Aliaksandr Lukashenka. In particular, both national and local media covered Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s visit to the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant and his statements for the reporters on August 14.
Local newspapers usually reprint information about the elections and statements by the CEC members received from the BelTA government-owned news agency. Much attention is paid to the harvesting issues.
The media provide regular coverage of the activities by Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s nomination group, both openly and indirectly praising the President’s policy (see publications in government-run newspapers).
A publication in the newspaper of the Brest Regional Executive Committee, Zarya nad Bugom, tells about involving voters in the pickets staged to collect signatures for the incumbent. Such publications can be found in almost all the state-owned media across the country.
HARASSMENT OF JOURNALISTS AND ACTIVISTS
On August 14, the Lieninski District Court of Hrodna continued hearing charges brought against local freelance journalists Ales Dzianisau and Ales Kirkevich. The court hearings take place in the absence of the defendants, who are accused of illicit manufacture of media products (Art. 22.9 of the Administrative Code), namely for the preparation of a report for the satellite TV channel "Belsat". The court heard several witnesses and the trial was adjourned till August 19. The charges against Ales Dzianisau and Ales Kirkevich stem from a video about the exhibition of Lithuanian puppets dolls in Hrodna, which appeared on the website of TV channel "Belsat".
On August 16, Valiantsina Shchetnikava and Ales Shautsou, members of Tatsiana Karatkevich nomination team, were detained in Mahilioŭ. They were later released without charges. According to euroradio.by, they were detained by police near the Vilienski market while collecting signatures for Tatsiana Karatkevich’s nomination. The police officers initially did not like the fact that the collection of signatures was carried out under a white-red-white flag. Later, the law enforcement officials returned the confiscated flag, but the collection of signatures was foiled.