Local elections in Belarus: Final report
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
Elections of deputies of local councils of the 28th convocation, which began on November 14, 2017, took place against the background of an overall deterioration of the political situation in the country compared to the previous period of ‘soft practices’ lasting between August 2015 and February 2017. The period ended with a wave of protests caused by the application of Decree number 3, which was perceived by the authorities as a serious threat to political stability and resulted in repression against peaceful protesters, opposition activists and leaders, civil society members, independent journalists and human rights defenders. Politically motivated persecution was used, in one form or another, against over 900 people. Forty people were victims of politically motivated criminal prosecution.
Despite the fact that the overall situation stabilized by the year-end, the country’s prisons continued to hold political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka. The latter is a prisoner of conscience, according to Amnesty International. The authorities failed to drop criminal charges against activists of the independent trade union REP, Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik. In December 2017 and January 2018, the Ministry of Information blocked access to two popular independent online resources, Belarusian Partisan (www.belaruspartisan.org) and Charter 97 (www.charter97.org). Judicial and other harassment was still used against independent journalists working with foreign media without government accreditation (most notably, TV channel Belsat).
After the launch of the elections, the Belarusian authorities said that they were not going to finalize the process of further improvement of the electoral legislation in line with the recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR. Thus, the electoral law was not reformed and the elections to local councils were governed by the old rules and procedures, which have been repeatedly criticized, including by the OSCE ODIHR observers.
The elections were very passive and hardly visible to the public. Despite the absence of any significant violations and obstacles at the electoral phases of registration of nomination groups, collecting of signatures and election campaigning, the stages that followed, including early voting, counting of the votes and the tabulation of voting results in higher commissions, were marred by numerous manipulations, active use of administrative resources and lack of transparency.
Monitoring of all stages of the elections once again clearly emphasized the systemic problems inherent in the electoral process that need to be addressed.
The electoral process did not comply with a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections. This is evidenced by the lack of equal access to the media for all candidates, the absence of impartial electoral commissions, numerous cases of voter coercion to participate in early voting, and opacity of some election procedures for observers. The key reason for criticism is the lack of transparency of the vote count, which prevents the observers from viewing the announced election results as a reflection of the will of voters.
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