Belarus: statement of the pre-electoral delegation

A pre-electoral delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Minsk to assess the election campaign and the preparations for the parliamentary elections to be held on 11 September 2016. The delegation thanks the authorities of Belarus for the invitation to observe the elections.

The PACE pre-electoral delegation recalls that the Assembly, in its report on observation of the presidential election in 2015, highlighted that “Belarus needs to reform its electoral legislation to ensure a thoroughly competitive political environment which is a key condition for the long-term democratic stability of the country”. Recent amendments to the electoral legislation in October 2015 fail to address some of the key recommendations of international organisations, including those of the Council of Europe Venice Commission.

The pre-electoral delegation welcomes the work of the Interagency Task Force which was created in Belarus on 12 February 2016 to improve the electoral process. However, the recommendations for amendments to the Electoral Code will be examined only after the parliamentary elections of 11 September. In a positive manner, in May 2016, the Central Election Commission (CEC) decided to adopt some important procedural changes, in line with former recommendations, mainly concerning the composition of electoral commissions, the transparency of their decisions, safeguards for early voting; improving observation of the counting process and the possibility to carry out campaign activities in some public places. The Assembly’s pre-electoral delegation asks the relevant authorities to fully implement the CEC decisions.

Various opposition and civil society representatives informed the Assembly’s pre-electoral delegation that the formation of the Precinct election commissions (PECs) was unbalanced: only 53 members out of 514 opposition parties’ nominees became PECs members, while 3,358 people representing pro-governmental parties became PEC members. A politically balanced membership of election commissions is a key factor to enhance voters’ confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.

The Assembly’s pre-electoral delegation welcomes the constructive cooperation of the Belarusian authorities on electoral standards and improvement of the electoral process in Belarus in the framework of recent PACE activities in the field of elections. It also welcomes the openness and the willingness of the authorities of the country to invite a large number of international observers without imposing constraints on their work, in accordance with the country’s international commitments.

The delegation noted the increasing number of candidates for the parliamentary elections (more than 600). However, according to some candidates and civil society representatives, certain candidates have not been registered due to minor technical reasons. The Electoral Code does not set out a clear procedure for the selection and verification of candidates’ signatures. Certain civil society and opposition representatives claimed that the procedure for verifying the signatures collected was not fully transparent and that this could undermine confidence in the electoral process. Concerns were raised regarding possible pressure on donors due to their financial contributions to the election campaign of opposition candidates.

Concerning the early voting procedure, the delegation was informed by representatives of opposition and civil society that there was a danger of misuse of administrative resources during early voting. Taking into consideration the considerable number of electors voting early, according to some estimation, it could be around 30% of voters, the delegation considers that all necessary steps should be taken to guaranty the transparency and fairness of early voting procedures.

The interlocutors of the pre-electoral delegation at the CEC expressed their confidence in the integrity of the voter registration system.

Currently, at around one month before the election day, the campaign environment appears to be very low key. The pre-electoral delegation noted that the environment was not restrictive for campaigning, the candidates are able to campaign by meeting voters, organising rallies and distributing campaign material. However, some representatives of the civil society expressed reservations as to whether candidates will be able to campaign freely and on a level playing field, in particular given the allegations about the use of administrative resources for pro-governmental candidates.

Concerning media coverage, the Electoral Code provides for free airtime for candidates on State television and radio, and free space in State-funded print media. The Assembly’s delegation was informed by different interlocutors that this coverage was mostly favourable to pro-governmental candidates. In this connection, the Assembly’s delegation reiterates that public broadcasters have an obligation to ensure equal access for all candidates without giving preferential treatment to any candidate. The delegation hopes that, after the registration of candidates on 11 August, TV debates will be organised between candidates representing pro-government and opposition parties as this would enable voters to make a well-informed choice.

The Assembly’s delegation called on the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure equal campaign conditions for all candidates.

The delegation had meetings with the Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus and Heads of the Standing Committees of the Parliament; the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Chairperson of the CEC; the President of the state television and radio company, the leaders of the main political parties and their representatives; representatives of the international community; the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission; representatives of civil society and the media.

The Parliamentary Assembly will send a 12-member delegation to observe the Parliamentary elections on 11 September 2016.

Members of the delegation:

Gisela Wurm, Head of the delegation (Austria, SOC)
Aleksander Pociej (Poland, EPP/CD)
Goran Tuponja (Montenegro, ALDE)
Ingebjørg Godskesen (Norway, EC)
Andrea Rigoni (Italy, ALDE), Rapporteur of the PACE Political affairs Committee on « The situation in Belarus »