Belarus: statement by the PACE pre-electoral delegation

A pre-electoral delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Minsk to assess the pre-election process and the preparations for the Presidential election to be held on 11 October 2015.

The pre-electoral delegation welcomed the openness of the Belarussian authorities who had invited the PACE after 14 years since the last invitation in 2001. It also welcomed the invitation extended to a large number of international organisations to observe the upcoming presidential election, including the ODIHR long-term observers, without imposing constraints on their work, according to the international commitments of Belarus.

The delegation was informed by the Central Election Commission (CEC) about the different stages of the preparation of the presidential election, including the procedure of collecting signatures for registration of presidential candidates. Six candidates submitted a sufficient number of signatures, more than 100 000, to the CEC to be registered as a presidential candidate. According to the CEC, no complaint was submitted to the CEC. On 10 September, after the verification of the signatures, the CEC will announce the names of the registered candidates.

A large number of interlocutors representing civil society and extra-parliamentary opposition highlighted the importance of equality of opportunity for presidential candidates to collect signatures in a free manner and of preventing the misuse of administrative resources in favour of the incumbent President.

Concerning the composition of election commissions, the delegation was informed, by interlocutors representing the opposition, about unbalanced membership of territorial and precinct election commissions. Political parties and public associations have the right to nominate at least one third of members of these commissions, however opposition representatives have complained that only 40 members, among 69 000 members of election commissions, are representatives of the opposition.

On 23 August, during the pre-election campaign, the Belarussian authorities released six political prisoners, including one former presidential candidate. The PACE pre-electoral delegation welcomes this positive development; and urges the authorities to continue improving the human rights situation in Belarus which is a key condition for the long-term democratic stability of the country.

The Election Code envisages free airtime for presidential candidates on state television and radio, and free space in state-funded print media. Some interlocutors of the delegation pointed out that the media environment has deteriorated in recent years due to defamation lawsuits and administrative sanctions imposed on journalists. The PACE pre-electoral delegation underlined the fact that public broadcasters have an obligation to ensure equal access for all candidates without privileging the incumbent President. The delegation was informed about a TV debate between presidential candidates to be held on 3 October 2015. The delegation encourages all presidential candidates to participate in this debate which could develop the culture of political debate in Belarus and enable the electorate to make an informed choice.

The PACE delegation was assured by the representatives of the Belarussian authorities that all necessary measures will be undertaken to guarantee the transparency of the electoral process, including during the voting and counting procedures.

The delegation had meetings with the speakers of the two Houses of Parliament of Belarus, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Chairperson of the CEC, the President of the state television and radio company, the presidential candidates or their representatives, representatives of the international community, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, representatives of civil society and media.

The Parliamentary Assembly will send an 11-member delegation to observe the Presidential election on 11 October 2015.

Members of the delegation:

Reha Denemeç (Turkey, EC), head of the delegation
Jonas Gunnarsson (Sweden, SOC)
Marieluise Beck (Germany, ALDE)
Andrej Hunko (Germany, UEL)
Andrea Rigoni (Italy, ALDE), Rapporteur on « The situation in Belarus » of the PACE Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy