Belarus

'Worst election ever': Domestic observers sum up their disrupted monitoring campaign

The domestic election observation campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” has presented a report on the interim results of observation of the presidential election at a press conference on August 10. The human rights activists called the 2020 vote “the worst election ever”.

According to Aleh Hulak, a co-head of the observation initiative, there is little trust in the actions of the authorities.

“Even at the stage of collecting signatures, there was no visible activity in support of Lukashenka, and therefore it is difficult to trust the official figures alleging his victory,” Hulak said. “There is also distrust after the authorities limited the number of observers. The measures referred to health concerns. But, in fact, our observation was disrupted, and there was no transparency.”

“Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” nominated 798 observers to the polling stations. Of these, only 93 observers were able to observe part time (both during early voting and on the main polling day), for literally a couple of hours. Only one observer was allowed to observe the entire voting process and only three observers witnessed the vote count. More than 30 observers were deprived of accreditation. In total, about 150 observers were detained (representing various observation initiatives, including “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”).

“The institute of election observation was the main target of the repressive machine,” Uladzimir Labkovich, one of the two coordinators of the campaign, said. “The ban on observation at polling stations violates both the Constitution and the Electoral Code.”

Up to 70 percent of observers documented inflated early voting turnout. About 40 percent witnessed coercion to early voting. As a result, more than 10 polling stations reported voter turnout exceeding 100 percent. In addition, in some polling stations, the final voting protocols were not published, and members of the commission secretly left the premises.

“The election process at all stages did not meet international standards for democratic elections, as it was accompanied by numerous violations of these principles and requirements of national law,” Labkovich said. “The results announced by the CEC do not correspond to the will of the citizens.”

Valiantsin Stefanovich of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" drew attention to the repression against citizens during the election campaign. Since May alone, about 1,500 people have been detained, about 200 were sentenced to short prison terms, and more than 300 were fined. At the moment, there are 26 political prisoners, but given the circumstances and the recent events (the protests on August 9 and 10), their number may increase. Demonstrations took place across the country, but it was in Minsk that they ended in completely disproportionate and brutal use of violence and non-lethal weapons by the police.

“In particular, they used the types of weapons and equipment never used before: water cannons, rubber bullets, stun grenades (the latter were used before, but to a lesser extent),” Stefanovich said.

Dozens of injured protesters were taken to at least three hospitals in Minsk. The Human Rights Center "Viasna" said that a protester died on August 9, after being run over by a police truck. He reportedly suffered a head injury. However, the Interior Ministry has so far denied this.

“We definitely blame the Belarusian authorities for what happened on the night of August 9,” Valiantsin Stefanovich said. “The authorities were preparing for it. The formal reason for strengthening security measures were the Wagner mercenaries, but in reality it was the imposition of martial law. Lukashenka’s visits to military units and his saying that the army can be used to protect the constitutional order, all this indicate that the authorities were preparing to use violence.”

The human rights activists fear that repressions will continue in the post-election period. Repressions against independent media and human rights activists are also possible. They therefore call on the authorities to stop the escalation of the conflict.

In addition, the human rights activists ask members of the election commissions to report, including on condition of anonymity, about election fraud.

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