The elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the seventh convocation were announced by Presidential Decree No. 294 of August 5, 2019 and took place on November 17, 2019.
In accordance with the current legislation, the parliamentary elections and the presidential elections were to be held in 2020, with the former no later than September 2020, and the latter no later than August 2020.
As early as two years before the announcement of the elections, CEC Chairperson Lidziya Yarmoshyna said to reporters that she did not rule out rescheduling one of the two elections to an earlier date. According to Yarmoshyna, the decision was expected to be taken by the country’s highest-level leaders.
In April 2019, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said in his annual address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly that the elections to the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic would take place in 2019. Thus, the parliamentary elections were scheduled almost a year before the expiration of powers of the House of Representatives of the previous convocation.
As there were no valid grounds for the early termination of the powers of Parliament under Art. 94 of the Constitution, and the four-year term of its office has not expired, the Decree violated the constitutional provision on the term of office of Parliament, and constituted an interference in the activities of the legislature. A significant reduction in the tenure of the House of Representatives reduced the number of legislative sessions to seven (the Parliament of the fourth convocation held 11 sessions, and the fifth convocation — 10 sessions).
The elections were held against the backdrop of complex political circumstances in the world and Europe, which had changed substantially, including in connection with the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. A thaw trend in relations between Belarus and the West, which had been observed since before the previous elections to the House of Representatives, led to some positive changes in domestic policies. The authorities expanded their cooperation with the UN and other international organizations in the field of human rights.
However, the situation with observance of human rights in Belarus remains stably poor and no systemic positive changes have occurred in this area. The few progressive changes in the legislation governing the exercise of the rights and fundamental freedoms, most notably the decriminalization of participation in the activities of unregistered organizations and the introduction of elements of the notification-based principle of organizing assemblies, have been accompanied by the introduction of administrative responsibility for the same actions and the establishment of heavy charges for policing peaceful gatherings.
There was a significant reduction in the number of politically motivated administrative convictions and criminal cases. However, the government failed to completely abandon the practice of repression against citizens exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and religion, including by prosecuting independent journalists. Nor did it take any measures aimed at the full restoration of political and electoral rights of former political prisoners.
The OSCE/ODIHR recommendations made following the observation of the previous parliamentary elections in 2016 have not been implemented in national electoral legislation. The work of the interdepartmental working group created in 2016 to prepare proposals for changes to the electoral law ended in deadlock.
Thus, the parliamentary elections were held according to the electoral rules and legal practices repeatedly criticized by both national and international observers. The key aspects of the electoral process, including the formation of election commission, early voting, and vote count, remained intact. This fact greatly influenced the character of the parliamentary elections.
In general, the elections of the members of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the seventh convocation failed to meet a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections, and the electoral legislation of the Republic of Belarus. These findings are primarily due to the lack of equal access to state media for all candidates, lack of impartiality of election commissions, facts of using administrative resources in favor of pro-government candidates, numerous instances of voter coercion to participate in early voting, absence of transparency of some election procedures for the observers.
Traditionally, it is the opaque vote-counting procedures that are subjected to greatest criticism, giving rise to serious doubts about the conformity of the results of this procedure to the actual will of the voters.
Read more on the observation of each stage of the elections in the analytical report here