Presidential Elections in Belarus

International Observer Mission of the I.P.O.

Report and Recommendations

 

 

Minsk / Vienna, 11 September 2001/P/RE/17292c-is

 

The President of the International Progress Organization, Professor Dr. Hans Koechler, visited the Republic of Belarus from 7 to 10 September 2001 in order to observe the presidential elections on 9 September 2001.

In his capacity as international observer, he visited numerous polling stations in the capital area of Minsk and on the countryside. He inspected polling stations not only on election day, but also on two preceding days (Friday and Saturday) in order to monitor so-called “advance voting” (which is a specific feature of elections in Belarus according to Art. 53 of the Electoral Code). Prior to the election day, he met with presidential candidate Sergei Gaidukevich, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in the party’s headquarters. He also held consultations with officials of the OSCE-Advisory and Monitoring Group Belarus and of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and met with members of the International Limited Election Observer Mission for the presidential election in Belarus, a joint initiative of the OSCE, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament.

Professor Koechler undertook his observer mission in his capacity as official of the International Progress Organization (I.P.O.), an international NGO in consultative status with the United Nations. On 7 and 8 September he visited polling stations in the district (rayon) of Minsk (in the city and outside the city compounds) in order to observe advance voting. He paid special attention to the arrangements for the protection of ballot boxes during the night so as to avoid tampering with the results. In most, but not all cases he got reasonable assurances for the adequate and safe storage of the boxes with the possibility for domestic observers to be present during the night. In that regard, polling station no. 6 in the central electoral district of Minsk at the student hostel of the Belarusian State University had undertaken elaborate arrangements in co-operation with domestic observers. Professor Koechler visited the station on 8 September and revisited it on 9 September (election day) in order to familiarize himself with the adequacy of the arrangements. He found that those were of exemplary nature documenting the positive role of civil society whereby the local electoral commission ensures full transparency of the procedures by co-operating with the domestic observers in conformity with the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus.

On the day preceding the election, the President of the I.P.O. also visited polling station no. 19 in the central electoral district of Minsk, School No. 1; polling station no. 40, district of Minsk, in the village of Samochvalovici; and  polling station no. 18, electoral district of Usda, in the village Tieshenka. On the election day, 9 September, he inspected, among others, polling station no. 1, central district of Minsk, in the Ministry of Agriculture; polling station no. 13, electoral district of Smolavichi, in the village Barsuki; polling station no. 20, central district of Minsk, in the School No. 42; polling station no. 77 in the Military Academy of the Republic of Belarus in Minsk, and he observed the taking of polls by a mobile polling station attached to polling station no. 2, electoral district of Frundisky, in the prison hospital in Prison No. 15/1 in Minsk.

The President of the I.P.O. selected himself the polling stations to be visited (without any consultation with the governmental authorities but after consultations with other international and domestic observers). All visits, except those to military and prison facilities, were made without any advance notice to the authorities. In each polling station, Professor Koechler interviewed the chairperson and members of the respective electoral commission and the local observers. He revisited the polling station at the Military Academy of Belarus and observed the counting of the votes immediately after the closing of the polling station at 8 p.m. on Sunday, 9 September.

Professor Koechler was able to assert that, with one exception, in all polling stations visited the procedures of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus were scrupulously followed. He was able to inspect the registry of voters in each polling station and to observe all electoral procedures. He has got the impression that the results of the voting in these stations are authentic and correct. The counting of the votes in the station chosen by himself for the purpose of observation (no. 77, Military Academy of Belarus) was undertaken carefully and with the necessary transparency, allowing domestic observers to fully witness all steps of vote counting. There was absolutely no doubt about the correctness of the results. Professor Koechler  was particularly impressed by the professional handling of vote-taking in the prison hospital in Prison No. 15/1 by the staff of the mobile polling station. In spite of the extraordinary circumstances in a prison environment, complete secrecy of the voting was ensured and the inmates (citizens held in administrative detention awaiting trial, i. e. still in the possession of their political rights) were treated with the proper respect required by the rule of law.

However, in polling station no. 1 in the central electoral district of Minsk, Ministry of Agriculture, irregularities occurred. Local observers were repeatedly denied view of the registry of voters. An inspection on the day after the election (10 September) revealed that, contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Code, the Protocol with the results of the polling was not on public display. It had apparently disappeared on the evening of election day. As a result of Professor Koechler’s complaint, a copy of the Protocol (which was brought from the office of the Central Electoral Commission) was put on display during the afternoon of 10 September.

Overall, the President of the I.P.O., having observed last year’s parliamentary elections in Belarus (see his earlier report at http://i-p-o.org/belarus-elections.htm), was able to notice a considerable improvement in the handling of electoral procedures according to the regulations of the Electoral Code of Belarus and to general standards of the rule of law. Having taken note of the views expressed by the observer delegation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and by the International Limited Election Observation Mission of the OSCE, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Professor Koechler expressed the view that the overall conduct of the presidential elections in Belarus was in conformity with good administrative standards and that everyone had the chance to participate in the voting without administrative obstacles.

Based on his experience from last year’s parliamentary elections and on the detailed observation of the presidential elections, Professor Koechler made the following recommendations: 

Having met with one of the presidential candidates, Mr. Gaidukevich (who assured Professor Koechler that he was treated fairly by the media and, upon detailed questions, told him that he had absolutely no complaints in regard to the handling of the electoral campaign by the authorities of Belarus), and having checked specific voting results in polling stations visited by him, the President of the I.P.O., by means of conducting his own “probability check” based on the results from different polling stations that were verified by him as correct, came to the conclusion that there is no doubt about the absolute majority of votes won by the incumbent President. Professor Koechler, however, was not able to certify the plausibility of the exact percentage of votes officially attributed to each of the candidates because the Central Electoral Commission made parallel vote tabulation impossible as it did not immediately make available the results of individual polling stations.

The President of the I.P.O. welcomed the OSCE’s readiness for a constructive dialogue with the Republic of Belarus and took note of the statement made by President Lukashenko to CNN that the Head of the OSCE-Advisory and Monitoring Group Belarus will not be declared persona non grata. Such positive attitudes will help build relations of confidence and co-operation within the wider framework of a Europe that does not single out or boycott any state and that respects the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of all states.

Professor Koechler considers his mission as international observer not in the sense of imposing a particular political programme or procedure upon the Republic of Belarus and its people, but as a contribution to reaching mutual understanding on general democratic procedures – which can, however, not be applied in a unified form. As observer who witnessed two important elections within less than a year, the President of the I.P.O. expresses the hope that the people of Belarus will find a way to avoid confrontation and to establish dialogue on the major issues related to democracy, the rule of law and the international relations of Belarus so that this country in the center of Europe will not be left out in the political periphery but will be fully integrated into the international community and the community of European nations. This will require further improvements of the democratic process, which can only take shape without foreign interference. The legitimacy of all institutions of the Republic of Belarus, whether Presidency, Parliament, or Government, will best be ensured by an improvement of democratic standards and practices based on comprehensive dialogue on the national level, and by increased co-operation – in the political, economic and cultural fields – on the international level.

 

END/Presidential Elections in Belarus 2001/International Observer Mission/Report/11-09-01/P/RE/17292c-is