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".
According to the timetable, the period of the pre-election campaigning begins after the registration of candidates and continues until the first day of the voting, which constituted the period from September 11 to October 10.
Presidential candidates did not face significant violations of their rights during the campaigning by meetings with voters. However, the decisions on designation of sites for campaign events, taken by local authorities in different parts of Belarus ,demonstrated the absence of a uniform approach. In a number of cities, including the capital, a relatively favorable conditions for canvassing were created. At the same time, many observers in the provinces state that the local authorities designated completely unsuitable places for campaign events.
The pre-election campaign did not become a significant socio-political campaign for the Belarusian society and was nearly invisible to the electorate. The lack of visual means of agitation for presidential candidates is apparently a result of the low activity of some candidates, as well as the refusal from the state financing of manufacturing of information materials.
The presidential candidate who is incumbent President had much greater opportunities for campaigning compared with other candidates, the administrative resource being actively used for his benefit.
Pro-government public organizations, funded from the state budget (Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, Belarusian Republican Youth Union and others) actively carried out socio-political events with the use of specific symbols and in the context of the election program of the incumbent president, which is identified with the agitation for him. Such activities were not financed from the election fund of the candidate, which is a violation of the established order of pre-election campaigning.
State media paid more attention to the elections compared to the previous campaign in 2010. Their materials contained neutral coverage of speeches and campaign activities of the candidates who competed with the incumbent president, as well as reviews of their pre-election programs.
The main actors of the electoral process were the incumbent president and the Central Election Commission. Other contenders could not compete with them in the allotted air time and newspaper space.
The order of campaigning for the presidential candidates is set by the Electoral Code and rulings of the Central Election Commission. It is prohibited to campaign with calls to war, forcible change of the constitutional system and so on, as well as with calls for the disruption, cancellation or postponement of the elections scheduled in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Belarus. Calls for a boycott of the elections are regarded by the Central Election Commission and law enforcement agencies as incitement to disrupt the elections and are qualified as a violation of the law.
Ruling No. 49 of the Central Election Commission of August 6, 2015 approved the "Regulations on the use of the media in the preparation and conduct of elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus in 2015". According to it, a presidential candidate is entitled to two free performances on the TV channel "Belarus 1" and two free performances of no more than 30 minutes on the First National Channel of the Belarusian Radio. Date and time of airing TV and radio programs with speeches of each candidate is determined by a lot, made by the CEC. TV and radio programs with the campaign speeches of the candidates and their debates are to be broadcast on live air, but can also be pre-recorded.
The current election campaign is conducted according to the the new rules of financing the costs of the campaign (earlier, only the local elections in 2014 were held according to them). In accordance with the EC in the edition of November 25, 2013, all the costs of production of printed campaigning materials shall be paid solely from election funds established by the presidential candidates, whereas the CEC produces and distributes only general information materials on all the presidential candidates at the expense of the state budget.
The new Regulation "On the electoral fund of a person nominated a candidate for the President of the Republic of Belarus, a candidate for President of the Republic of Belarus during the presidential elections in Belarus in 2015" specifies that the maximum amount of expenditures from the election fund of a presidential candidate can not exceed 9,000 basic units. The Fund may consist of the own contributions of a presidential candidate, as well as of contributions of others – up to 20 basic values from a private individual and up to 50 basic values from a legal entity.
The regulations do not provide observers and journalists with any opportunity to verify the source of donations and expenditures. The legality of the formation of the election fund and its spending is assessed only by the financial authorities and the CEC.
Agitation by Means of Electoral Meetings
The decisions about the designation of venues for campaigning events (indoor meetings, outdoor rallies and pickets), adopted by the local authorities all over Belarus, demonstrated the lack of a consistent approach in this matter. In many cities of the country, including in the capital, the decisions were quite liberal.
The decision of the Minsk City Executive Committee does not restrict the rights of candidates. Favorable conditions for the election campaigning were also created by the Bychaŭ District Executive Committee by designating the Center of Culture, Folk art and Crafts, the Bychaŭ district center of children's creativity and the assembly halls of other organizations as venues for electoral events.
At the same time, many observers in the provinces reported that local authorities designated desolate and remote places for electoral events.
In the Lieninski district of Hrodna, only one of eight such places can be considered as a public and suitable for canvassing. A similar situation can be observed in the Kastryčnicki district: all 11 sites are unfrequented. These are playgrounds near schools and gymnasiums and the public garden on Lievabiarežnaja Street. In the Lieninski and Kastryčnicki district of Mahilioŭ, the places for agitation are still unsuitable for this purpose, whereas the center of the city is actually banned for pre-electoral campaigning. The Chocimsk District Executive Committee designated just one site for mass electoral events on the territory of the whole district.
The pre-electoral activities of T. Karatkevich, who actively met with voters, were quite noticeable compared to virtually invisible campaigning for S. Haidukevich and M. Ulakhovich.
Actively organized were the events with the participation of proxies of A. Lukashenka: meetings in labor collectives, visits to enterprises, educational institutions, etc. These meetings were always attended by the heads of central and local authorities, enterprises and institutions, and their main purpose was to call voters to support the country's current political course and take part in the elections.
September 24 in Viciebsk there was held a meeting of the Minister of Agriculture Leanid Zayats with the lecturers and students of the Academy of Veterinary Medicine. The Minister spoke about the prospects of development of agriculture of the country and the need to support the election authorities and the economic course of the country. Rector Anton Yatusevich reported that in 2010
96% of employees of the educational establishment had cast their votes for Lukashenka and assured the Minister of further support.
On September, an electoral meeting with Lukashenka's proxy Siarhei Biaspaly, the chief editor of the newspaper "Homieĺskaja Praŭda" was held in Homieĺ. The attendance to the meeting was ensured by bringing there students and lecturers of the Homieĺ State University named after F. Skaryna, whose classes were canceled for the time of the meeting.
According to the CEC, by October 7 more than 42 mln rubles was passed to the electoral fund of S. Haidukevich, more than 26 mln – the fund of T. Karatkevich, more than 33 mln – to the found of M. Ulakhovich, and more than 1.5 billion – to the found of A. Lukashenka. S. Haidukevich spent all means, T. Karatkevich and M. Ulakhovich – more than a half. By October 7, the sum, used by each of Lukashenka's rivals was about 7% of the amount that was officially spent on Lukashenka's campaign.
“European Radio for Belarus” held a journalistic investigation into the distribution of the campaign materials (postcards), entitled "For the Future of Independent Belarus!" in support of Lukashenka. The circulation of the postcard was 2.5 million copies. “ERB” counted that the cost of the production and sending such number of postcards considerably exceeds the sum, spent from the electoral fund of A. Lukashenka. It's also worth noting that the agitation postcards in support of the candidate Lukashenka, brought to almost every apartment, do not correspond to the requirements of Art. 45, part 9 of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus: they don't contain information about where and by whom the were printed, no number of the state registration certificate of the manufacturer of the campaigning materials and the date of its issue, the number of the order for printing, the surname and initials of the customer.
Journalists and observers were able to obtain information neither about the sources for the electoral funds, nor about their spending.
State-run media widely reported about the actions of the pro-government NGOs that expressed their support for the president. The regional newspapers published the statement of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus of September 25. “We call upon all citizens of our country”, reads the statement, “to unite and support Aliaksandr Lukashenka at the elections <...> Under the leadership of Aliaksandr Lukashenka Belarus has passed a huge way of development and established itself as an independent state. It is thanks to the president that peace and order has been preserved in our country. The Head of State is always on the side of ordinary people. He cares about the country and takes responsibility for the fate of the Fatherland, which brings him a sincere respect of the Belarusian people."
Evaluation of the campaigning in the Belarusian media was made in the reports published by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (proceed by the link to see the English version). It is noted that despite the emergence of positive elements, such as a positive or neutral presentation (not only negative, as before) of the rivals of the incumbent president, one can not state significant changes in the manner of the election campaign coverage by the state media. It still focused on the promotion of only one candidate for the top position. BAJ analyzed state television airtime, as well as printed and electronic publications related to the elections. For example, in the program "Our News" (ONT) 65% of the air time was devoted to Aliaksandr Lukashenka, 4% - to T. Karatkevich, 3% - to S. Haidukevich, 3% more - to M. Ulakhovich. In the program "Panorama" (BT), 58% of the air time was devoted to A. Lukashenka and only about 4% - to other candidates.
A different tendency can be observed in non-state media. In the Internet edition naviny.by most coverage was received by M. Ulakhovich (24%) and T. Karatkevich (16%), while Lukashenka and Haidukevich got only 6%. Meanwhile, the weekly "Nasha Niva" wrote mostly about Lukashenka (52%) and Karatkevich (25%), characterizing them either neutrally or negatively.
Use of Administrative Resources
In fact, pro-governmental public organizations were campaigning for the incumbent president. Belarusian Republican Youth Union carries out the actions "Our Year - Our Choice!", leads the Internet project "My Belarus - My Choice", whose participants are invited to publish on social networks various pieces of information about Belarus and the forthcoming elections, accompanying it with the hash tags of neutral (# mayabelarus, yapatriot #, # vybory2015 - “my Belarus”, “I am a patriot”, “elections-2015”) and agitation (# zabatku “for Father”) character. Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus holds a series of concerts with the use of the symbols of the campaign of the incumbent president under the motto "We Are Together!" (official name - "Republican People's Patriotic Action"). It is important to note that such activities are not funded by the electoral fund of the presidential candidate, and these organizations receive government funding and support.
October 2 The CEC considered the complains of the presidential candidate T. Karatkevich and her appeal for giving her additional air time on public radio and television.
In her complaints to the CEC T. Karatkevich pointed at violations of the rules of campaigning and the principles of equality of all the candidates on the part of the presidential candidate Aliaksandr Lukashenka and demanded to issue him with a formal warning in accordance with the provisions of the EC. In particular, she reported on the use by the state media, including the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, of the symbol in the form of a tick, painted in the Belarsian ornament with the use of the colors of the state flag of the Republic of Belarus. This symbol was used in the press-releases and sections dedicated to the elections, in the Internet application for smartphones "Elections - 2015" developed by the Belarusian Republican Youth Union and BelTA, at the series of concerts "We Are together" and in the campaign materials of Mr. Lukashenka. She also pointed at the sale by the joint stock company “CUM Minsk” of T-shirts with the electoral slogan of A. Lukashenka, “For the Future of Independent Belarus!” that weren't produced at the expense of the electoral fund of the candidate.
A similar complaint was lodged by the experts of "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections".
In her second complaint, the candidate T. Karatkevich pointed at the holding of the 5th assembly of military officers and the adoption of the appeal to military officers and members of their families calling to support the candidacy of the incumbent at the elections. The appeal was published on the website of the Ministry of Defense on September 25. According to the author of the complaint,
the appeal contains agitation.
Having considered the complaints and the appeal of the candidate T. Karatkevich, the CEC dismissed them. In its Ruling No. 81 regarding the results of the consideration of Karatkevich's complaint, the CEC stated that the sign in the form of a tick had been developed by the Belarusian Telegraph Agency back in 2010, was used during elections and was again placed at the website of the agency with the onset of the electoral campaign of 2015. Afterwards, many mass media independently decided to use analogical symbols in the coverage of the electoral campaign. Therefore, the CEC believes that the assertions about the identification of this symbol with a particular candidate don't meet the reality. The CEC also stated that the sale of men's T-shirts, produced by the open JSC “Svitanak” by the JSC “CUM Minsk” was “a usual commercial activity of a trade organization”, and the image on the T-shirts was a “designer decision of the manufacturer”.
According to the experts of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" CEC decisions are illegal and groundless, as they do not give a proper assessment to the facts of the serious violations of election laws (Art. 45, 46, 48 of the EC) regarding the campaigning in support of the presidential candidate Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The use by a number of state and public organizations and mass media of a symbol similar to the one that is used for campaigning in support of A. Lukashenka identifies these events with the personality of the candidate and encourages voters to cast their votes for him.
Clothing production of the open JSC "Svitanak" with the slogan "For the Future of Independent Belarus!" also contains signs of election campaigning. In accordance with the electoral laws the production of all materials related to the electoral campaigning must be carried out at the expense of the electoral fund of the respective presidential candidate.
The lawyers of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" also filed a complaint to the CEC for violation of the electoral legislation by a proxy of the presidential candidate Aliaksandr, Chairman of the Belarusian TV and Radio Company H. Davydzka. In violation of Art. 46 of the EC, on September 11, he hosted the program "Club of Editors", which highlights the theme of the election. September 24 the chairperson of the CEC responded to the breach and stated that it "strictly warned" H. Davydzka. It is not known so far what is the legal status of such a warning and why it hasn't been issued to the candidate Lukashenka (as required by the law. The CEC hasn't given an answer to these questions.