What are the main differences between the presidential campaign in the year 2015 and the previous presidential campaigns?
Despite the fact that the 2015 presidential elections overlap with and are in some ways influenced by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, they have features very similar to previous elections. The elections will not be free, considering their preparation by the electoral administration, which should ensure a high turnout and a definite result during early voting. The country has no political prisoners left, although political cases against civil activists continue to be made. In the legislative area and in ensuring transparency in the preparation and conduct of the elections, there are no positive changes. As always, independent observers are faced with the problem that much of the information they need is not available to them, in part because it is not submitted by electoral commissions. At this stage of the campaign, the authorities have refrained from direct reprisals against human rights activists; instead, they chose to control the amount of information provided to activists.
How do you evaluate the process of preparing for the elections?
The procedure for verifying signature lists for the nomination of presidential candidates was closed to observers; consequently, it is impossible to say whether the registration complies with the letter of the law. There is reason to suspect that not all the registered candidates actually collected the necessary hundred thousand signatures they needed, and that some were registered because their participation in the elections is part of the political power play.
Taking into account the fact that opposition and independent organizations could only hardly affect the work of the election commission during the previous elections, will members of the opposition and independent NGOs be represented in electoral commissions during this elections?
As in previous election campaigns, the opposition cannot effectively monitor the work of election commissions at all levels. In the 153 territorial election commissions, only 10 out of 1,916 members are representatives of the opposition. In the precinct election commissions, only 31 of 66,941 members are from the opposition (0.046%). There are five times fewer opposition representatives in election commissions this year than in the previous presidential election.
Most of the committee members traditionally represent labor groups loyal to the regime, or are representatives of the five main pro-government social organizations (Belarusian Republican Youth Union, “Belaya Rus,” Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions, Union of Women, and Belarusian Public Association of Veterans). Members of these organizations make up 38.8% of regional election commission members.
How do you estimate the current conditions for independent observation of the presidential elections?
Generally, the activities of the commissions and the bodies forming the commissions are not transparent to observers. The role of observers is limited to simply attending commission meetings.
How can you characterize the election campaign in the media and on the streets?
The 2015 elections are characterized by the low level of campaigning activity of the candidates. The campaign in favor of the incumbent president is de facto financed by state funds, using state television and local print media. Representatives of executive authorities are focused on organizing voter turnout and early voting. The only visual indicator that there are elections going on are posters reminding voters of the upcoming election date. From the date of candidate registration, the election campaign has been characterized by an absence of negative attacks on alternative candidates.