Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

Uladzimir Labkovich: Yarmoshyna’s words a political statement

Uladzimir Labkovic
Uladzimir Labkovic

There will be no transparent counting of votes during this year’s parliamentary elections, said Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the Central Election Commission. The statement reflects the authorities’ current approach to the administration of elections, says Uladzimir Labkovich of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign.

The commissions will not display each ballot when counting. To do this, we need to amend the law, because the counting procedure is described there,” said Ms. Yarmoshyna in response to a question of the BelaPAN news agency at a briefing on June 23. However, she argues that the CEC has implemented the OSCE ODIHR’s recommendation to allow the observers to see the vote count.

“Clear and transparent procedures for counting should be established and strictly implemented. Consideration should be given to announcing and displaying the choice on each ballot. The tallying of results and completion of results protocols should be conducted in an open manner that provides for meaningful observation,” said one of the ODIHR’s key recommendations following the 2015 presidential election.

It was our common demand, both by ODIHR and our campaign, as well as by the opposition political parties, so that each ballot could be displayed and that not only the observers, but also members of the commission could know voting results at the polling station. Since the procedure that we have at the moment is not transparent even for to the members of the commission, because each commissioner counts his or her little pack of ballots and should therefore trust the results of counting by their colleagues. Most importantly, this procedure does not provide for error correction,” says Uladzimir Labkovich.

In early March 2016, Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections sent their proposals on the implementation of the ODIHR recommendations. Speaking of the above recommendation, the experts suggested the following way of its implementation: “It is possible to settle the issue in the guidelines for the members of election commissions approved by a resolution of the Central Election Commission. We believe that the establishment of a clear vote counting procedure with the ballots being counted by only one member of the election commission and the choice on each ballot being announced and displayed to the observers, so that each of those present at the counting of votes (including the PEC members and observers) could see the mark made by the voter, would be a major step towards greater transparency and reliability of the counting of votes.”

What has the CEC actually done to implement the recommendations of both national and international observers?

The CEC has amended its decision by adding a wording saying that when at the polling station the observers should not be placed behind, but in front of the tables for vote counting,” says the human rights activist, calling the move “an attempt to manipulate the term of transparent vote count”. “Because it does not matter where the observer is — on the table, under the table or at the table. What matters is whether he or she can see the choice of the citizen on each ballot. After all, with the procedure that we have now an observer can be put on the table, but he will still be unable to see each ballot. Of course, we believe that the recommendations of both national and international observers have not been fully implemented.”

Obviously, this is the position of the current government — to prevent a transparent vote count, concludes Labkovich.

He says it is interesting to trace the evolution of Ms. Yarmoshyna’s replies to the question about her statement that the display of each ballot is “not consistent with the law”.

Initially, when our campaign (during the last presidential election) wrote to the Central Election Commission with a proposal to regulate the procedure of vote counting, Ms. Yarmoshyna answered that they could not resolve this, since it was the competence of election commissions and each commission reportedly was free to decide how to count votes. Now she has decided to strengthen the fragile wording and refers to the fact that it allegedly runs counter to Article 55 of the Electoral Code. But if we read this article, we will see that it provides for the steps of the commission during the vote count at the polling station (for example, that the first step is opening the box for early voting, then the boxes for home voting and then the ballot boxes located at the polling station on Election Day). However, this article does not regulate the procedure for counting the votes, but says that the calculation is carried out solely by the members of the commission. And we do not object this. Therefore, this statement by Yarmoshyna is not juridical, but a political one. And, on the basis of it, we can already state the sad truth: the independent observers, and, I believe, the international ones, too, will have great distrust of the election results, which we will hear on September 11.”

At the same time, the human rights activist stresses that Belarus is virtually the only country in the region, which still  practices the secret ‘special operation’ of the counting of votes, as both the Russian legislation and the legislation of other countries of the Eastern Partnership provide for “sane and transparent procedures”.

Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections