Elections in Belarus – International Observer Mission – Report

Minsk/Vienna, 16 October 2000/P/RE/16931c-is  

The President of the International Progress Organization, Dr. Hans Koechler, visited the Republic of Belarus from 13 to 16 October 2000 in order to observe the parliamentary elections on 15 October 2000.

In his capacity as international observer he visited several polling stations in the capital Minsk and on the countryside. Prior to the election, Dr. Koechler held consultations with political personalities and received briefings from independent sources. He met with the Head of the Advisory and Monitoring Group Belarus of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Ambassador Wieck. On the day before the elections he held a meeting with one of the leading opposition figures in Belarus, Mr. Sergei Gaidukevich, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

On the day of the election, the President of the I.P.O. visited 8 polling stations in the electoral constituencies 81, 96, 102, 107. He made the decision about the visit to particular polling stations entirely on his own and without previous announcement to the authorities, which was one of the basic conditions of his acceptance to visit the Republic of Belarus as electoral observer. The constituencies visited included those where prominent opposition leaders such as Mr. Nikolai Statkevitch, Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Mr. Mikhail Chigir, former Prime Minister of Belarus, and Mr. Sergei Gaidukevich, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, were registered as candidates.

The President of the I.P.O. witnessed the polling during the whole election day and observed the counting of the votes at a polling station of electoral constituency 102 in the City of Minsk. In the course of his unannounced visit to polling stations in precinct 81 in the town of Zhodino, one of the industrial centers of Belarus, he inspected the office of the precinct’s Electoral Commission and met the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the town, Mr. Valeri Mikhailovich Kashevski.

Based on his inspections and meetings before and during the election day, Dr. Koechler, while emphasizing the strict adherence to the principle of non-interference into the political process in the Republic of Belarus, presented the following conclusions:

In the stations visited, the polling was carried out in a professional manner. The situation in and around the polling stations was calm, no signs of agitation or intimidation of voters could be deteced. The counting of votes in the stations visited was carefully and professionally organized, assuring full transparency of the procedure in the polling stations. In all the polling stations local election observers representing human rights groups, other NGOs and, in certain cases, representatives of candidates were present.

Notwithstanding the overall positive impression, in the process of monitoring the elections and assessing the preparations for the elections, Dr. Koechler observed in certain instances a lack of transparency and of specific procedural standards. The crucial issues, in his evaluation, are: equal access to the media for all candidates; registration of candidates without discrimination, i.e. on the basis of equally applied criteria; transparency of the collection of votes by means of mobile polling stations on the election day; transparency of the so-called “advance voting” by electors who have no possibility to be present at the day of the voting;  transparency in the process of the establishment of the lists of voters; participation of representatives of all competing parties in the electoral commissions.

In one of the polling stations of precinct 102, the President of the I.P.O. noticed a considerable decrease of the number of registered voters, i.e. an amendment of the official list of registered voters,  during the election day. Based on this observation and on general considerations related to the rule of law, he recommends the modification of Article 21 of the Electoral Code which, in its present form, allows the updating of voters’ registration lists up to the very day of the election. As international observer, Dr. Koechler also recommends to replace Article 53 of the Electoral Code (which regulates “Advance Voting”) by provisions which make it possible, in case of the voter’s absence from his permanent residence, to vote in a district other than that of the district of registration on the election day itself. Only this will ensure the  transparency of the electoral process.

In his concluding remarks, the President of the I.P.O. stated that he highly welcomes the improvements of electoral procedures as made possible in the Amendments to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus introduced earlier this year. He expressed the hope that on the basis of the experience gathered from yesterday’s parliamentary elections, further improvements will be made so as to ensure that the above-described lack of transparency of certain procedures will not reoccur.

Referring to the report by the Parliamentary Troika of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assemblies of the OSCE and the Council of Europe on the political situation in Belarus in the light of the parliamentary elections of October 15th, released earlier today at a press conference in Minsk, the President of the I.P.O. expressed the hope that the European institutions will apply the same standards in their dealings with all CIS member states, whether Georgia, Kazakhstan or Belarus. The credibility of any monitoring process by European institutions or other intergovernmental bodies will only be ensured if a policy of double standards is avoided and if the principle of non-interference into the internal affairs is meticulously observed.

In this regard, the President of the I.P.O. refrained from giving any political advice to the government or opposition in Belarus and strictly confined his mission to dealing with the basic issues of the rule of law and good practices. He emphasized the fact that different concepts of democracy exist and that the role of political parties may be defined in a different manner according to the democratic system in each country. It would be counterproductive to impose a unified model with unified procedures upon each and every country in Europe.

Dr. Koechler especially noted the procedural regulations in the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus that are meant to ensure that money and personal wealth are not becoming the decisive factors of electoral success (which is so often the case in Western democracies). While this achievement which is of central importance in regard to the fairness of the electoral process should be upheld, he stated that the measures assuring to each candidate equal access to the media and guaranteeing candidates’ registration on a non-discriminatory basis (without interference of governmental interests) have definitely to be improved.

The President of the I.P.O. expressed the hope that yesterday’s parliamentary elections will be a decisive step in the process of democratic reform in the Republic of Belarus.

END/Elections Belarus/16-10-2000/P/RE/16931c-is