Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

Valiantsin Stefanovich: Sounds like Yarmoshyna plays cunning

Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy chair of the Human Rights Center "Viasna". Photo by
Valiantsin Stefanovich, deputy chair of the Human Rights Center "Viasna". Photo by

Representatives of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" received a response from the Central Election Commission to their proposals on the implementation of the OSCE ODIHR recommendations, which is contrary to previous statements made by Lidziya Yarmoshyna in the media.

On March 15, after the final meeting of the interdepartmental expert working group that was formed to study the recommendations made by the OSCE ODIHR election observation mission following the October 2015 presidential election, Lidziya Yarmoshyna told BelaPAN that the group had developed its proposals to improve the electoral process, taking into account the proposals that were made by the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign. However, the letter received by the human rights activists does not suggest this.

Please inform the proponents that their opinion on the possibility of implementing many of the recommendations made by the OSCE ODIHR with the help of explanations by the Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums are not based on law. The powers of the Central Commission as an enforcement authority, which are provided for by the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus, do not allow it to set or amend the rules of the electoral law, which is required by a majority of the OSCE ODIHR recommendations. For example, the recommendation to demonstrate each ballot to the observers, to provide them with certified copies of the final protocols and others,” said the response signed by Lidziya Yarmoshyna.

The CEC head refers to the OSCE ODIHR recommendations, which, as human rights activists pointed out in their proposals, can be implemented without amending the Electoral Code. For example, they proposed to improve the procedure of counting votes through adjusting the guidelines for the members of precinct election commissions, which is approved by a Decree of the CEC.

Valiantsin Stefanovich, an expert of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", disagrees with the fact that the proposal is contrary to the Electoral Code.

First of all, I would correct it. The ODIHR recommendation was not about the “demonstration of each ballot to the observers”, but about the exact regulation of vote counting procedures: the counting should be carried out by one member of the commission and each ballot should be shown to all present, including the observers, of course,” says Valiantsin Stefanovich. “In essence, this is one of the main recommendations of both the ODIHR and our campaign. It deals with vote counting procedures. Considering that the Electoral Code does not contain any description of any procedure, we believe that this recommendation does not run counter to the Electoral Code. If the Code provided for a certain procedure, and we offered another one – then it could be said that our proposal was contrary to law.

Moreover, according to the responses that we received from the CEC, including during the previous presidential elections, the procedure of vote counting is set independently by each election commission. On this basis, we believe that the Central Commission may adopt a decision, which will recommend one or another vote counting procedure. The procedure offered by us and the ODIHR is much more transparent than the one we have now. The same applies to copies of the final protocols by precinct election commissions. The electoral law does not contain any provisions that would prohibit certification of such copies. And, in essence, the very word "copy" means that it must be certified, otherwise it is not a copy.”

In addition, the human rights stresses the inconsistency in the approach demonstrated by the CEC.

I believe that Lidziya Yarmoshyna dissembles when she says that the CEC does not establish any new rules of the Electoral Code. I can recall from the practice of previous elections such cases when the Central Election Commission set in its regulations and guidelines such rules, which were not present in the Electoral Code. In particular, they introduced the position of an “assistant member of the nomination group” who could enter data about the voter in the signature sheet, although the rules of the Electoral Code says that if the signatures are not collected by members of the nomination group, such signature sheet should be considered invalid. Also, I remember the case when the methodological recommendations included so-called ‘working protocols’ of the election commission, which featured separate data of vote counting, and they were not available to observers. But the Electoral Code does not provide for any ‘working protocols’. Therefore, I believe that these procedures might be regulated. Meanwhile, the answer received by the "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" suggests that the Interdepartmental working group has not considered the most vital procedures regarding counting procedures that were offered by both our campaign and the OSCE ODIHR,” says the expert.

Valiantsin Stefanovich also says his dissatisfaction with the work of the interagency expert group is supported by such a circumstance as the opacity of its activities.

The work of the interdepartmental working group was closed and non-transparent in nature. Where can we see the changes they have worked out? Nowhere. The CEC website does not have them. That is, it turns out that the work of this group is classified. And the head of the Central Election Commission says only general things, simply naming the areas in which the proposal were ‘taken into account’. But which proposals exactly? As I understand it, we will see something only at the beginning of the parliamentary elections, for example, decisions of the CEC,” says he. “Again, I think it is wickedness. After all, there were the recommendation of the OSCE ODIHR, who said that the government should take them into account. The government said it was ready to take them into account. But they do not say what they have taken into account. Maybe, they will send their amendments to the ODIHR...

Valiantsin Stefanovich reminds that in their proposals for the interagency working group the experts of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" focused on the things that the CEC could resolve without amending the provisions of the Electoral Code. But he emphasizes that this is not the end.

All ODIHR recommendations need to be introduced in the election legislation by the Parliament, the Electoral Code should be amended. If they believe that the process of counting of votes cannot be resolved through a decision of the CEC, it turns out that the parliamentary elections will be held as usual, i.e. according to the procedures that we have repeatedly seen and that we not view as transparent. In this case, after the parliamentary election the Parliament should address the question of amending the Electoral Code,” says Valiantsin Stefanovich.

The interdepartmental expert working group was established by the Central Election Commission on February 12 in order to review the OSCE ODIHR recommendations on the improvement of the electoral process. The final meeting of the group took place on March 15. As reported by the CEC website, the proposals developed by the group do not require legislative changes and can be carried out during the parliamentary elections in 2016, “aiming at improving the transparency of the formation of election commissions, public awareness about the outcome of the consideration of appeals in electoral disputes, and creating conditions for observing the election procedures”.