Belarusian Elections: The Art of Falsification
Today's parliamentary elections are the simplest for Belarusian election committees. Because the majority of the opposition has boycotted the elections, the election committees have almost no need to rig the votes. In any event, when neither the observers nor even individual members of election committees have access the final count – it is difficult to have unexpected results.
The elections in Belarus last paradoxically long – for 6 days — for two main reasons. First, the authorities get time to increase the turnout under threats of dismissal, problems at educational institutions or eviction from dormitories. Second, such a prolonged snap poll gives them enough time to falsify the results.The author has been working as an observer for these elections over the last six days, based at one of the polling stations outside Minsk and trying to figure out what is hidden behind the red curtain.
A typical polling station in Belarus is an ordinary school classroom. A policeman is standing nearby, “on the watch for the process”. From time to time they sit directly at the polling station for the whole day and which constitutes a violation of Belarusian law. Police explain that they should watch the threat posed by independent observers.
In Belarus, standard ballot boxes are made of wood, thus, they are non-transparent. The commission chairman agreed during the first meeting with the author that it is rather easy to add extra ballots because of large holes in ballot boxes. The author together with the chairman solved the problem by glueing it up with plasticine.
Election Committee vs. Independent Observers
The election committee consists approximately of 10 members. Employees of various organisations, political parties, public organisations nominate them. It is also possible to do so by collecting signatures. Then the Central Election Committee lead by Lidia Yarmoshyna declines unreliable candidates. Naturally enough, opposition representatives are among them.
This time there are only 48 opposition representatives who managed to be part of the local election committees, which constitutes just 3.3% of the total number. It is interesting that members of the committees remain almost the same from election to election. Only ideologically reliable people can stay there for so long.
As opposition-minded people are not likely to appear in the election committees, the opposition has to “advance the troops of observers.” Despite the small amount of members, they act quite efficiently. Even Secretary of the Central Election Committee Mikalai Lazavik admitted that he begins his day from browsing the human rights web-sites for Belarusian election news.
The relations between the election committee and independent observers are tense for an obvious reason: if falsifications are revealed, members of the election committee may (at least in theory) face criminal charges. In accordance with their dislike of democratic institutions, their hostile attitude becomes clear. The election committees sometimes ask for the removal of observers when the latter notice irregularities.
Dealing with the Low Turnout
Parliamentary elections in Belarus are far from being popular. The parliament does not play any role other than ceremonial in Belarusian politicics. Just look at the figures: the House of Representatives has prepared only three bills in the last four years. The rest came from the presidential administration to be rubber-stamped. The opposition boycott also contributed to the low turnout.
After a four day poll in Belarus, 20% of the electorate had already voted. These figures are two time lower at stations with independent observers where it is more difficult for election committees to allow voting on behalf of a whole family.
Which is, by the way, a widespread practice in Belarus, to relieve them of their obligation. When observers cannot see it, committees may allow them to vote for their relatives. Otherwise they say it is illegal. It looks most ridiculous when voters ask why it was permitted during the presidential election in 2010 but not this time.
Many state enterprise directors make their workers vote in advance, giving them permit for early leave in order to “do their civil duty.” One woman, who came to vote at the author’s polling station, even asked to give her a special confirmation document to show her boss.
The less popular, but more effective governmental method is "carousel". This means the situation when people are gathered in groups, put into the bus and driven to the polling station. On Wednesday one such "carousel" was uncovered at a polling station in Minsk. According to independent observer Aliaksandr Marchanka, around 100 people came to the polling station by buses and refused to show their passports to observers to prove that they are entitled to vote at that particular station.
The Administrations of Belarusian universities also made their students vote in advance. In these cases they often provide students with additional days off. If students live in a subsidised dormitory, the dorm administration makes them vote in advance under the threat that next year they will not get a place in the dormitory. In the Belarusian student town Gorki, 883 of 1600 people voted at one polling station during Tuesday, the first election day. Most of them were students.
The Ultimate Counting Magic
Counting votes is the most stressful moment in any election. It is even more stressful in case of falsifications in Belarus.
When the polling station closes for voters, each member of an election committee gets several hundreds ballots to count. Afterwards, he or she writes down the voting result on a sheet of paper and passes it to the committee chairperson in silence. All other members of the election committee do the same. Thus, nobody announces their results. Members of an election committee do not even know the results of their colleagues’ counting.
Finally the chairperson announces the overall result. At the same time, the observers have no way to verify the figures. Belarusian democratic activists often call chairperson officers magicians for such tricks. The only difference is that magicians pull rabbits out of their hats, while commission chairperson pull election results.
Opposition Groups Call Not to Vote – Parliamentary Elections Digest
As early voting continues police targets both opposition groups which actively take part in elections and those who call to boycott the elections. A number of opposition parties withdraw their candidates and urge not to participate in elections.
Opposition groups call not to vote. Several major opposition political groups called on people not to vote in parliamentary elections. They include the United Civic Party, Belarusian Popular Front, Young Front, Belarusian Christian Democrats and Independent Trade Union of the Radioelectronic Industry. They stated as a reason for their decision the presence of political prisoners in Belarus, a lack of legislative framework for fair elections, an absence of control over vote counting and persistent repression against opposition groups.
Two opposition parties withdraw their candidates. The Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) and the United Civic Party (UCP) decided to withdraw their parliamentary candidates (31 and 38 representatives respectively), explaining that the election process was not transparent and democratic, and authorities were ignoring their demands to release political prisoners.
Early voting begins in House of Representatives elections. Polling stations opened in Belarus on September 18 for early voting in the elections for the House of Representatives. The main voting day in the elections is September 23.
Police seize printed material from office of «Tell the Truth!» movement. Police seized a large amount of printed material from the office of the "Tell the Truth!" movement in Minsk on September 6. The officers raided the office, located in an apartment building, when many members of the opposition movement were staying there to watch a television address by a parliamentary candidate.
Minsk court convicts Zmena activists. Minsk Frunzenski District Court has considered the administrative charges brought against activists of the Zmena movement (youth wing of the Tell the Truth campaign), who were brutally detained during an election picket on September 18. Hanna Kurlovich was sentenced to a fine of 2 million rubles; Yahor Viniatski to 7 days of arrest; Aliaksandr Artsybashau to 10 days of arrest; Pavel Vinahradau to 12 days of arrest.
Police break up demonstration for election boycott in Minsk. Police in civilian clothes broke up a demonstration for an election boycott in Minsk on September 18, violently grabbing opposition activists and journalists who were covering the event.
Election contest of #electby. Resource of the people election monitoring #electby jointly with the project "Election Observation: Theory and Practice" announce a contest for the best photos and videos for the parliamentary elections in Belarus. Among the nominations there are best photo, dedicated to the campaign; best video of/about the candidate. The competition prizes – camera, smartphone, e-book – will go those who will collect the largest number of "likes" in social media and at the website electby.org.
Report of Early Voting Observation Results. 200 short-term and 95 long-term observers of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign carry out everyday monitoring of the early voting at 150 polling stations all over Belarus. They note the number of early voters, evidence of compulsion to vote early and obstacles created for observers to count the number of early voters. The recent diagrams reflects information from over 120 polling stations, the reports from which were processed as of September 19, 10 p.m.
Typical young candidate. Alternative Youth Platform has examined all the young people registered as candidates to the parliamentary elections, and compiled a portrait of a typical candidate. There are 38 candidates at the age of 18 to 31 years. A typical candidate is a resident of Minsk. 89 percent of them are male. Most of them do not belong to any party, the second and the third largest group are representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party and Belarusian Popular Front.
EU Poised to Extend Sanctions Against Belarus After Elections (for subscribers only) – The European Voice reports that the EU will be watching parliamentary elections in Belarus on Sunday (23 September) with a sense of uncertainty about how to adjust its policy towards its eastern neighbour after another year of clashes with the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka. The EV also gives reference to the think-tanks Carnegie Europe, IISEPS and BISS quoting their vision of the current situation, as well as, mentions the Brussels-based ODB burglary.
The Belarusian Opposition on the Eve of the Election Day – the Analytical Belarusian Centre presents an analytical overview which is described the Belarusian opposition on the eve of the election day. The issue is dedicated to the existing situation among opposition parties on the eve of the main polling day. The experts predict the results of the parliamentary elections and possible alliances among the opposition.
Elections from Belarus: a view from Poland. The monthly bulletin of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) is dedicated to Belarus, specifically to pre-election situation and named "Election without choices". The experts note that the campaign running up to the parliamentary elections highlighted the lack of dialogue between the authorities and society. It also underlined the problems of the Belarusian opposition, i.e., the internal divisions and the lack of resources required to conduct political agitation.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.