Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

Transparent Funds at all Stages is a Step to Fair Elections

The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus has a general provision that elections are prepared and held at the expense of the state within the budget allocated for this purpose. The law also provides for the cases when elections can be prepared and held at the expense of public associations, enterprises, establishments, organizations, and citizens.

As the Venice Commission justly remarked, regulation of funding of electoral campaigns is needed to protect the democratic process. “As noted by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in General Comment No. 25, “Reasonable limitations on campaign expenditure may be justified where this is necessary to ensure that the free choice of voters is not undermined or the democratic process distorted by the disproportionate expenditure on behalf of any candidate or party.” One of the key components of such a framework is the requirement for transparency. All systems for financial allocation and reporting, both during and outside of official campaign periods, should be designed to ensure transparency, consistent with the principles of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and relevant Council of Europe recommendations.” [1]

The issues concerning the procedure of setting up the electoral funds for parliamentary and presidential elections were reflected in the Electoral Code of Belarus, in more details – after respective amendments were made to the Code in 2013.

The Electoral Code also established the procedure of granting a possibility for candidates to Parliament or for presidency to publish their programs in print mass media and to speak, according to the established procedure, on the radio and TV. Candidates are also provided with rooms free of charge to meet their potential voters.

Electoral commissions are obliged to produce and distribute, at the expense of the state budget, print materials with information about candidates.

Thus, candidates and their initiative groups can nominate and agitate for a candidate without impediments provided that the law is duly observed by all subjects of the electoral process.

Meanwhile, the existing gaps and flaws in the law regulating the electoral process allow different kinds of violations and misuses, which distort fairness of elections. [2] As compared to non-transparent ballot count, these violations influence the electoral results to a lesser extent; however, they also require a reaction from legislators.

The existing electoral legislation does not guarantee equality for candidates in terms of coverage of their activities on the state television.

The situation allows those candidates who are loyal to incumbent authorities to appear more often and in more favorable light on TV, which is totally controlled by the state, as compared to their opponents. For instance, they appear in reports about current work or public service; this does not violate the law formally, and nevertheless disrupts the balance between candidates’ resources essentially: pro-governmental candidates get additional promotion without paying it from their funds, and such advertising is not taken into account as part of electoral expenditures.

This testifies to the failure to implement international documents on transparency of funding for electoral campaigns.

The practice of collecting ballot-access signatures revealed a problem of financing of this stage of electoral campaign: although the Electoral Code obliges to spend on the electoral campaign strictly through electoral funds, the issue of financing activities of an initiative group at the stage before registration of a candidate has stayed unregulated.

The Code envisages for a means to collect signatures to stand as a candidate in the form of a picket, but it does not envisage terms and restrictions on the use of informational materials there, like placards, banners and the like. It only bans agitation and distribution of any print materials. Although the need of funds for holding such pickets is obvious, in order to print placards, biographies of the candidates, the question how to outline legally the rules for financing these activities stays open.

The recent amendments to the Electoral Code have regulated the issue of financing at the stage before registration of a candidate only in presidential elections: the person being nominated as the candidate for the President of the Republic of Belarus has the right to establish their own electoral fund and use this fund in accordance with the requirements of this Article to cover the expenses and services related to the collection of voters' signatures, including the remuneration of members of the initiative group of citizens to nominate him as a candidate for the President of the Republic of Belarus. To open a special electoral account the person being nominated as a candidate for the President of the Republic of Belarus shall submit an application to the bank and a copy of the decision of the Central Commission on the registration of the initiative group of citizens on the nomination of this person as a candidate.

Thus, the norm in article 48, part 8 of the Electoral Code is not implemented, the one stipulating that political parties, other public associations, organizations and citizens of the Republic of Belarus are not entitled to provide other material aid during the preparation and holding of elections, except for contributing monetary funds into the non-budgetary fund and electoral funds of candidates to parliament, and the law fails to set up conditions for its implementations.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption [3] obliged Belarus to consider adopting appropriate legislative and administrative measures, consistent with the objectives of this Convention and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to prescribe criteria concerning candidature for and election to public office.

The Convention on Standards for Democratic Elections and Electoral Rights and Freedoms in CIS Member States [4] establishes the following standards for funds and expenses of participants in elections:

In addition to the ban on foreign financing, the state has to provide for an open and transparent nature of all money donations to candidates, political parties, participating in elections, in order to avoid any prohibited donations to candidates, political parties that have put forward the candidates in elections.

Summing up it all, legislators should pay attention to essential legal gaps concerning financing of nomination of a candidate to parliamentary elections, and to the lack of any rules for the media on how to cover activities, including those of persons currently in public office, while other candidates do not enjoy such coverage.

The campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections is independent and does not aim to support any political parties or public figures. The whole electoral process is estimated from the viewpoint of free, democratic and transparent elections enabling the people of Belarus to exercise fully their constitutional right to govern their country.

[1] GUIDELINES ON POLITICAL PARTY REGULATION BY OSCE/ODIHR AND VENICE COMMISSION, adopted by the Venice Commission at its 84th Plenary Session (Venice, 15-16 October 2010).

[2] The observance of the principle of fair elections should provide for establishment of equal legal conditions for all participants of the election process; art. 10, p. 1 of the “Convention on Standards for Democratic Elections and Electoral Rights and Freedoms in CIS Member States” (7 October 2002, Chisinau (Moldova)).

[3] United Nations Convention against Corruption (Adopted by Resolution 58/4 of the General Assembly on October 31, 2003).

[4] The “Convention on Standards for Democratic Elections and Electoral Rights and Freedoms in CIS Member States” (7 October 2002, Chisinau (Moldova)), ratified by Belarus in 2014.