Observation of the presidential elections of the Republic of Belarus is carried out by activists of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center "Viasna" in the framework of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections".
- August 21 was the last day of gathering signatures by initiative groups of citizens for the nomination of presidential candidates;
- The Central Election Commission registered a total of eight initiative groups to nominate candidates for president: Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Aanatol Liabedzka, Tatsiana Karatkevich, Siarhei Haidukevich, Viktar Tsiareshchanka, Mikalai Ulakhovich, Zhanna Ramanouskaya, and Siarhei Kaliakin. According to the CEC, five initiative groups have submitted to local TECs the required 100,000 signatures for the registration of the contenders as presidential candidates: (Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Tatsiana Karatkevich, Siarhei Haidukevich, Viktar Tsiareshchanka, and Mikalai Ulakhovich);
- the campaign’s observers have not reported any significant obstacles that could complicate the work of the nomination groups or disrupt the collection of signatures during the current phase of the elections;
- the collection of signatures for the nomination of Aliaksandr Lukashenka was accompanied by the active use of administrative resources: it was carried out in the working hours, in the territory of enterprises and institutions, often with the direct involvement of the administration of these companies;
- coverage of the collection of signatures in the state, including local media was extremely biased, and in a number of cases was characterized by campaigning for the nomination and election of the incumbent;
- most observers representing the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", who were duly registered in the district (city district) election commission, were denied the opportunity to observe the procedure of verification of signatures submitted by the nomination groups;
- the absolute non-transparent procedures for the verification of signatures gathered for the nomination of presidential candidates casts doubt on the results of this scrutiny; the same applies to information on the number of signatures gathered in support of the nomination of these presidential candidates in general;
In accordance with the Electoral Code, the coordinators in districts, cities and city districts have to submit the signature sheets no later than 50 days before the election day to the district, city and city district election commissions, which should validate the signatures within ten days. The scrutiny shall cover at least 20 percent of voters’ signatures in the signature sheets submitted to the commission.
The Schedule of arrangements for the preparation and holding of elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus (approved by Resolution Np. 17 of the Central Commission of Belarus for Elections and National Referendums of July 1, 2015), the signature sheets should be submitted to local election commissions no later than August 21.
The registration of candidates for the President of the Republic of Belarus should be completed by September 15.
August 23 was the last of nomination of representatives to district election commissions and submission to the bodies in charges of forming the election commissions of documents for the nomination of representatives to the commissions.
COLLECTION AND SUBMISSION OF SIGNATURES
The signature collection took place from July 23 to August 21. The nomination group gathered signatures both with the help of door-to-door visits and through street pickets in locations which were not prohibited by the local government.
Decisions of local authorities on the definition of places prohibited for picketing in order to collect signatures, in general, did not limit the ability of nomination groups to collect signatures in public places.
In general, it should be noted that there have been no reports during the monitoring of this electoral stage on any significant obstacles that could lead to the disruption of the collection of signatures or on any significant complication of work by the nomination groups. In some cases, the TECs considered appeals of members of nomination groups and took timely measures to restore the violated rights.
At the same time, there were cases of detention of some members of the nomination groups by employees of the Interior Ministry, as well as other interference in the activities of nomination groups by the police. It should be noted that in none of the cases such intervention was justified.
A characteristic feature of this stage of the campaign was the widespread use of administrative resources in the implementation of the collection of signatures for the nomination of the incumbent.
The campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" has repeatedly highlighted in its weekly reports the facts of using administrative resources when collecting signatures for the nomination of President Lukashenka.
The campaign’s observers documented several cases of collecting signatures by persons who were not authorized members of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s nomination group. These persons filled in the signature sheets on the grounds that they were "assistants to members of the nomination group". It should be noted that para. 8 of the Central Election Commission’s Resolution No. 18 of July 1 provided an opportunity to fill in the voter’s personal data in fields 1-5 of the signature sheet (passport data) upon request of the voter by other persons, including non-members of the nomination groups. This provision is contrary to Art. 61 of the Electoral Code, which not only prohibits an opportunity to fill in the signature sheet by anyone else other than a member of the nomination group, but clearly indicates that if the signatures were collected by a non-member of the nomination group, or the signature sheet has not been certified by a member of the nomination group or certified by another member of the nomination group who did not collect the signatures, all the signatures on the signature sheet shall be deemed invalid (para. 8, Part 16, Art. 61 of the Electoral Code).
It should be recalled that during the presidential election of 2010 the Central Election Commission also provided an opportunity to fill in the signature sheet by non-members of nomination groups, including so-called "assistant to a member of the nomination group", the presence and status of which are not provided for by the current electoral law. Such a loose interpretation of the order of signature collection by members of the nomination group has created conditions for a massive use of administrative resources in favor of the nomination of the incumbent.
On August 22, the Central Election Commission announced information on the number of gathered and submitted signatures. In particular, 1,761,145 signatures were submitted for the nomination of presidential candidate A. Lukashenka, 159,805 signatures for M. Ulakhovich, 140,735 signatures for S. Haidukevich, 130,404 signatures for V. Tsiareshchanka, and 107,299 signatures for T. Karatkevich. The rest of the nomination groups either have not gathered the required number of signatures or refused to submit them at all.
It should be noted that the absolute non-transparent procedures for the verification of signatures gathered for the nomination of presidential candidates casts doubt on the results of their scrutiny; the same applies to information on the number of signatures gathered in support of the nomination of these presidential candidates in general.
ACTIVITIES OF ELECTION COMMISSIONS
The official website of the CEC offers no information on the complaints received and the outcome of their consideration. The website still does not fully cover the activities of the CEC.
The CEC considered a complaint against a violation committed by the National State-Public Association "Belarusian Society of Hunters and Fishermen", which posted in its newspaper a decision of the NGO’s Board to support the incumbent and encouraging its employees to actively participate in the collection of signatures in support of President Lukashenka. The CEC found the resolution advisory, and found no violation of the electoral law.
An observer registered with the Žodzina City Election Commission reported opacity of document management in the commission: the observer was prohibited to monitor the quantity and content of incoming documents.
Election commissions refrained from principled assessment of disproportionate coverage of the collection of signatures by various nomination groups in favor of the initiative group of the incumbent.
The work of the Salihorsk Election Commission, according to local observers, was closed from the public. The observers were not invited to the working meetings.
The Partyzanski District Election Commission of Minsk did not consider a complaint by the campaign’s observer against the collection of signatures in support of Viktar Tsiareshchanka by minors who were not authorized as members of the nomination group.
Already, most of the local election commissions have prohibited observers to attend verification of signature sheets after their submission by the coordinators of the nomination groups.
This was reported by observers in the Žodzina city election commission, the Smarhoń district election commission, the Baranavičy district election commission, the Maladziečna district election commission, the Hlusk district election commission, the Biaroza district election commission, the Kastryčnicki district election commission of Mahilioŭ, the district election commissions of Brest, Homieĺ and Viciebsk.
Election officials justified the ban by the fact that the verification of signatures is a working procedure, while observers have the right to be present only at the meetings of the election commissions.
At the same time, the observer in the Smarhoń district election commission stressed that the signatures in support of Lukashenka (the only signatures submitted by August 22) had been selected for verification before the commission meeting and were separated from the rest.
The observer in the Baranavičy district election commission noted that members of the commission decided to involve four employees of the executive committee’s organizational and personnel department in checking the submitted signatures.
The observers in the Maladziečna district election commission was only provided with an opportunity to see the signature sheets that had not been selected for verification.
The members of the Mahilioŭ district election commission refused to provide observers with information about the amount of signature gathered and handed over to the commission in support of presidential candidates, as well as any information on the collection of signatures by the nomination groups of all the contenders in the district, as well as on the nomination of representatives to the PECs and the means of their nomination.
Likewise, members of the Mahilioŭ regional election commission refused to provide access to electoral data. Observers were told that they could learn all the information from the press or the information posted on the website.
According to the observer in the Hlusk district election commission, chairman of the commission noted at the meeting noted that the nomination group of M. Ulakhovich had submitted “very curious” signature sheets. He suggested that all of them were written by the same hand as if someone had used a certain database and copied the data to the signature sheets. Moreover, the chairman of the commission allowed the observers to see the folders containing the signature sheets for M. Ulakhovich and the folders containing the signature sheets for A. Lukashenka. All the observers were able to explore the signatures.
The Čyhunačny district election commission of Homieĺ did not announce the number of submitted signature sheets.
The Biaroza district election commission has selected the following principle of selecting signature sheets: during the initial check – odd-numbered sheets with selected numbers, and during an additional check – even-numbered sheets with selected numbers.
Some election commissions have started working to identify opportunities for campaigning by the presidential candidates’ campaign teams.
MEDIA AND JOURNALISTS
Observers report low activity in conjunction with the bias of government, especially local media in covering the elections. The few publications either tell about the overall progress of the elections or the activities of the nomination group of the incumbent, or focus on the positive policy of the incumbent in his office.
The authorities have not stopped repression against freelance journalists. Two more journalists were brought to administrative responsibility for cooperating with foreign media. Appeals filed to challenge earlier rulings in administrative cases against independent journalists were dismissed. This demonstrates the continuing practice of restricting the freedom of speech in Belarus.