The election observation campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” have summed up the results of this year’s local councils elections.
According to the deputy chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich, the local elections have demonstrated long-standing problems of legislation, as recommendations of both Belarusian and foreign observers continue to be ignored by the CEC and election commissions.
The campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” involved 30 long-term and 220 short-term observers, who worked at 180 polling stations across Belarus.
The stage of formation of election commissions was marked by a selective approach, when the list of election commissioners was often approved without any discussion. Observers were often denied access to the meetings where the election commissions were formed. Since the electoral law still does not define the criteria for the election of commissioners, appealing the final decision in court is rather problematic.
At the stage of registration of candidates, observers faced with the fact that they were not allowed to observe the verification of signatures collected by initiative groups. Most refusals of registration were documented in Minsk (20%), whereas in rural areas almost all nominees were registered. As a result, 88% of the constituencies in the local elections were uncontested and in two districts the elections did not take place.
This year, the candidates were for the first time allowed to form their electoral funds. According to the amendments to the Electoral Code, the entire election campaign should be covered by the funds collected for this purpose. The maximum size of the fund shall not exceed 30 base units (3.9 million rubles). According to Valiantsin Stefanovich, the amount is not large enough for a full-fledged campaign. As a result, the elections were almost invisible. Lack of funds made many candidates choose between producing and distributing flyers and printing their programs in the newspapers. All this does not contribute to the awareness of citizens, who have to make a choice between several candidates on voting day.
Some candidates faced obstacles in campaigning. For example, Illia Dabratvor, candidate from Minsk, received a warning and his leaflets were confiscated. Information about political prisoners in his election flyers were viewed as slandering officials by the commission, and the slogan “No to War” with respect to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was labeled as inciting enmity between Russians and Belarusians.
As for the counting of votes, the chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak noted that the discrepancy between the observers’ estimates and the official information reached 20.1%. 98% of observers encountered obstacles in conducting their activities, 93% reported that the distance to the table where ballots were counted was so large that it was not possible to observe the vote count.