Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

Belarus elections still ignore key recommendations, says OSCE ODIHR mission

The parliamentary election campaign in Belarus is low key, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said in an interim report released 10 days before voting day set for November 17.

It also notes the “limited number of events organized” and their low attendance.

“Many election stakeholders, including some candidates, reported to the ODIHR EOM that due to the suppressed political environment, restrictive legal framework outside of the official campaign and general lack of resources to organize assemblies and media appearances, they see the election period as the only opportunity to reach out to the population,” said the report. “Some electoral stakeholders reported that they are engaged in the election in order promote their long-term political messages rather than to call on voters to support specific candidates.”

ODIHR observers note that the Belarusian Constitution provides for freedoms of assembly, association and expression, but the regulatory framework imposes various restrictions on these freedoms.

“The Election Code was not amended since the previous parliamentary elections, while recent amendments to other legislation introduced new procedures for holding assemblies and regulations on online media. Long-standing ODIHR recommendations, including those related to unbalanced composition of election commissions, restrictions on candidacy rights, and insufficient safeguards of the voting and counting processes, remain unaddressed,” the report said.

As noted in the report, opposition activists are poorly represented on election commissions. “Many ODIHR EOM interlocutors expressed a lack of trust in the work of the election administration,” it adds.

It says that out of 703 nominated candidates, 560 were registered (27% women). A total of 131 prospective candidates were denied registration mainly on the basis of invalid support signatures and inaccuracies in income and assets declarations,” the mission concludes. “The majority of complaints filed with election commissions and courts related to candidate registration and the composition of election commissions. While most were rejected, in two cases candidates successfully appealed DEC decisions denying their registration.”

The ODIHR observers note that Article 47 of the Electoral Code provides for the deregistration of candidates in connection with acts of defamation or public insult.

“On 23 October, the CEC chairperson stated that this sanction can apply to calls for an “overthrow of constitutional order” or “incitement of hatred” in candidates’ speeches and on social networks,” the report says.