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".
1. The collection of signatures for nomination of candidates for the presidency ended (until 1 September), the signatures were checked; executive committees have begun to take decisions about the places for campaigning; the process of appealing against the decisions about non-inclusion of candidacies of in the Precinct Election Commissions continues. None of these complaints have been meet so far.
2. According to the CEC, documents for registration as presidential candidates were filed by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Tatsiana Karatkevich, Siarhei Haidukevich and Mikalai Ulakhovich, as well as Viktar Tsiareshchanka, who, according to the results of the verification of signatures by the territorial election commissions, failed to collect 100,000 in support of his nomination.
3. The procedure for verification of signatures by TECs was often non-transparent: the observers were denied the right to observe the process of selecting the signatures for verification and the verification itself. However, some observers were allowed to observe the procedure of verification of signatures and found flaws in the work of the commissions.
4. Long-term international observers of the CIS and the OSCE have started observing the elections. Representatives of the European Network for Election Monitoring (ENEMO) have not yet received an official response from the President of the Republic of Belarus, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus to their request to be invited to observe the elections.
5. August 31, the individuals accused in the so-called “graffiti case”, Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski, were released under recognizances not to leave. Thus, taking into account the pardoning of Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Artsiom Prakapenka, Yury Rubtsou, Mikalai Statkevich and Yauhen Vaskovich, all persons who were regarded as political prisoners by human rights defenders, have been granted freedom. No facts of harassment of journalists were registered for the reporting period.
ELECTIONS ACCORDING TO DATA AND ASSESMENT OF CEC
According to the CEC, documents for registration as presidential candidates were filed by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Tatsiana Karatkevich, Siarhei Haidukevich and Mikalai Ulakhovich. Documents were also filed by Viktar Tsiareshchanka, who failed to collect the necessary 100,000 valid signatures for his nomination.
According to the results of the verification of signatures, published by the CEC, the number of valid signatures in support of Aliaksandr Lukashenka os 1,753,380 (1,761,145 were passed to election commissions), for Mikalai Ulakhovich – 149,819 (159,805 passed), for Siarhei Haidukevich – 139, 877 (141,842 passed) and for Tatsiana Karatkevich – 105,278 (107,299 passed). The initiative group of Viktar Tsiareshchanka passed 130,404 signatures for verification, but only 6,699 were found valid.
Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Lidziya Yarmoshyna pointed at the situation with the signatures in support of Mr. Tsiareshchanka. She believes that this applicant can possibly have more valid signatures, but the verification showed that "in some regions, the members of the initiative group did not collect signatures, but in fact forged them, and a part of the signature sheets with such signatures were submitted to the election commissions".
WORK OF COMMISSIONS
TECs held their meetings to announce the results of the verification of signatures in the signatures sheets, submitted by the initiative groups. Many observers have noted the lack of transparency in the work of the TECs. Although some of them for example, the Rečyca and Svetlahorsk TECs, admitted observers to the verification procedure, the majority of the commissions still verified them behind the closed doors.
Observers report about difficulties in working with the TECs. For instance, observers are “invited to the sittings of the TEC of the Katryčnicki district of Minsk in half an hour's advance, and aren't informed about anything”. An observer of the TEC of the Lieninski district of Minsk states that election-related information about the sittings is published at the website of the Lieninski District Executive Committee too late and is never published in advance. It is virtually impossible to work with the TEC of Žodzina, the Sluck District TEC, the TECs of the Maskoŭski and the Lieninski districts of Brest and others.
Senior officials make no secret of their direct participation in the work of the TECs. The head of the ideological department of the Mahilioŭ District Executive Committee told an observer of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", that all documents related to the work of the district TEC were kept not at the commission's office, but at his safe, though he wasn't a member of the TEC.
An observer of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" attended a sitting of the Mahilioŭ Regional TEC on September 2. He notes that after considering all issues on its agenda, i.e. announcing the results of verification of signatures, the Commission removed journalists and observers, and continued its work behind closed doors.
The observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" filed an appeal to the Maladečna District Prosecutor regarding a violation of electoral legislation in the part of filling in
the signature sheets for nomination of presidential candidates Siarhei Haidukevich and Mikalai Ulakhovich. August 22, the observers Edvard Balanchuk and Ales Kaputski noticed irregularities in the signatures sheets in support of these individuals, which weren't verified by the commission. In particular, the observers noticed signatures given by citizens of other districts and persons with residence permits. In some sheets, the dates of signatures were put down with one hand. The graphical similarity of signatures raised doubts in their authenticity. The observers weren't allowed to examine the signature sheets that were chosen for verification. In its reply No. 186ž-15 dated August 31, 2015, Prosecutor U. Dubouski informs the observers that they had the right to appeal to the Minsk Regional Election Commission regarding the issue of verification of signatures. Thus, the Maladečna District Prosecutor's Office evaded from performing the function of prosecutorial supervision.
Some TECs, such as that in the city of Hrodna, held sittings to agree the sites for campaigning, adopted by the local executive committees. At these sites, presidential candidates and their agents can hold electoral meetings, with making a prior notice to the authorities. They also agreed the places for campaign materials, facilities for meetings of candidates and their proxies with voters.
September 2, the coordinators of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" had the first meeting with the mission of the OSCE ODIHR on election observation, which began its work in Minsk. Aleh Hulak and Uladzimir Labkovich exchanged with representatives of the OSCE their opinions on the pace of the campaign, analyzed certain provisions of the electoral legislation and raised questions about their practical application. A particular attention was paid directly to the voting process, the counting of votes and judicial review of electoral procedures.
The observers note the activity of pro-government organizations Belarusian Republican Youth Union and "Belaja Ruś", as well as local authorities at various levels. “Hot-lines” and local holidays are held everywhere, during which state authorities report about their work, listen to citizens, and cultural and entertainment events are held.
An observer from the town of Hlybokaje says that Belarusian Republican Youth Unions holds actions under the slogan “We Are Together!" in the town almost every weekend. These events are attended by the authorities and are accompanied with performances of guest artists. In Hrodna, an eponymous socio-cultural event, held on September 4, gathered about 3,000 participants and was widely covered in the local media.
At the same time, local executive authorities continue to deny citizens the right of public events, including on electoral matters. Viciebsk authorities prohibited members of the CCP BPF to hold two pickets, at which they intended to call on residents of Viciebsk not to vote for A. Lukashenka, because he was running for presidency for the fifth time, which is a violation of the common democratic principle of limitation of stay of one man as president of the country for more than two consecutive terms.
In the regions, state media make little coverage of the election campaign, a number of regional newspapers do not even have information about the number of signatures collected by the initiative groups in the district. The state-run newspaper “Kryčaŭskaje Žyccio” (№ 66 for September 2)
contains no articles on the topic of the elections, № 66 for September 5 contains a small reprint from the state news agency BelTA, entitled "Preliminary information." The same situation can be observed in the newspaper of Čerykaŭ district “Vesnik Čerykaŭščyny” and others.
State-run media publish a lot of materials, which are regarded as a PR of the present authorities and, correspondingly, the main contender for the presidency. The newspapers of the Brest region dedicate their first pages to a large article, based on the the BelTA information about the president's working visit to Brest region, titled "President expects improvement in 2016". N“Kryčaŭskaje Žyccio” publishes a detailed report about the beginning of the construction of a new school, during which a memorial capsule was laid with the participation of Deputy Prime Minister Aliaksandr Kalinin and Chairman of the Mahilioŭ Regional Executive Committee Uladzimir Damaneuski. A seminar for veterans' councils of the region with the participation of presidential aide H. Laurankou and other officials is covered too. The regional media also focused their attention of the pedagogical conference held in August, and the words of A. Lukashenka about an excessive load on children in modern schools.
APPEALS AGAINST NON-INCLUSION OF NOMINEES IN ELECTION COMMISSIONS
An observer of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" in the Salihorsk district Leanid Markhotka appealed to the local authorities with a formal request to be given an opportunity to study the documents ,submitted for the nomination of candidates for PECs. His request wasn't satisfied. In his reply the head of the Salihorsk District Executive Committee explained the refusal by stating that such a step wasn't provided for by the Electoral Code.
The Salihorsk District Court turned down the claim of the Minsk regional branch of the BPF and the Minsk regional branch of the public association BPF "Adradžennie” against the refusals to include their representatives in the PECs. Judge A. Burautsou saw no violations of the law in the formation of commissions. At the court hearing, a representative of the Salihorsk District Executive Committee A. Strapko referred to the fact that the persons who hadn't been included in the PECs had no experience of work in election commissions. In its ruling the court stated that the composition of the commissions correspondend to the quota for members of political parties and public associations, provided by the Electoral Code.
Valery Misnikau appealed to the Viciebsk City Prosecutor's Office with an appeal about his exclusion from a precinct election commission as a result of the pressurization of the law-enforcement agencies. According to Mr. Misnikau's claim, by its decision of August 26, 2015, the Pieršamajski District Executive Committee of Viciebsk included him in PEC No. 17 as a representative of the Pieršamajski district branch of the Republican Party of Labor and Justice. The sitting, during which Mr. Misnikau was included in the PEC, was attended by his fellow partisans and observers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections".
The Astravec District Court turned down the appeal of an activist of the United Civil Party Mikalai Ulasevich against his non-inclusion in the Varniany PEC No. 7. August 31, the Biaroza District Court turned down the appeal of the Brest regional branch of the BPF Party against the non-inclusion of its five members to PECs.
The Sluck District Court turned down the appeal of the Party BPF and the NGO BPF "Adradžennie” and left in force the decision of the Sluck District Executive Committee No. 2838 "On the formation of precinct election commissions for elections of President of the Republic of Belarus", dated August 26, 2015. According to the court, the non-inclusion of the oppositionists in the PECs in no way violates the rights of the members of the party and the NGO. The court also refused to pay any reaction to the non-transparency and secrecy of the formation of the PeCs, referring to the lack of jurisdiction.