Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe



 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Final Report

Observer Mission of the

Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe

for the

General Elections and Republican Referendum in Belarus

 Conducted on October 12-17, 2004
 
 
 
 
 
 



 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Table of Contents





Final Report: Introduction                                                                      Page 2

List of Observers                                                                                    Page 6

Initial Report: October 18, 2004                                                             Page 7

Appendix I: Observer Reports                                                                Page 12

Alisher Toksonbaev (Minsk)                                    Page 12
Milan Stefancec (Minsk)                                          Page 19
Milan Kysucan and Petr Machalec (Brest)               Page 19
Saniya Sagnaeva (Borisov)                                       Page 23
Pawel Piekarczyk (Bobruysk)                                   Page 25
Appendix II: Articles                                                                               Page 28
Petrushka Sustrova (Minsk)                                      Page 28
Azgar Ishkilgin (Minsk)                                            Page 34
Shahla Ismailova (Molodechno)                                Page 37
Appendix III: Documents                                                                         Page 40
Statement of Observer Representatives                     Page 40
Copy of Protocol                                                      Page 40
Links and Resources                                                                                 Page 41
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Final Report
Observer Mission of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE)
For the General Elections and the Republican Referendum in Belarus
Conducted from October 12 to October 17, 2004

Introduction

The Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) organized an independent observer mission to monitor parliamentary elections and a republic-wide referendum held in Belarus from October 12 to 17, 2004. (The formal “election day” was October 17; there were five days of “early” or “pre-election voting” from October 12 to October 16.) The IDEE mission consisted of 18 journalists and public figures from Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The delegation was joined by the Honorable Senator Zbigniew Romaszewski from Poland and Petruska Sustrova from the Czech Republic, who led the delegation.

The elections were called to select 110 members of the Chamber of Representatives of the Belarus parliament (a second “upper” house is appointed). The current legislature was established under the 1996 Constitution instituted by President Aleksander Lukashenka through a referendum widely seen as falsified and declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Using heightened presidential power, Lukashenka dissolved the previous parliament, the democratically elected 13th Supreme Soviet of 1995-96, and supplanted it with a new, smaller bi-cameral legislature made up of pro-government or co-opted parliament members. The remaining 42 members of the 13th Supreme Soviet continued to meet to assert its legitimacy under the previous Constitution. Most Western governments did not recognize the 1996 referendum and the 13th Supreme Soviet was Belarus’s officially recognized parliamentary representative in the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly until 2002. Several members, including the Chairman, “disappeared,” likely by orders of the president and government police services.

Parliamentary elections in 2000 were boycotted by most opposition parties because of non-democratic conditions. In the September 2001 presidential elections, an opposition coalition decided to field a united candidate, Uladzimir Hancharyk, in the belief that an opportunity existed to challenge the president’s authoritarian rule. An NGO coalition organized widespread non-partisan voter turnout and monitoring efforts. But with the same undemocratic processes in place (including the government’s selection of election commissions, unmonitored early voting procedures, widespread intimidation and threats, state control of nearly all media, abuse of police and the courts against the opposition) there was no possibility of any fair contest. Independent observers, as well as the OSCE observer mission, reported widespread fraud, intimidation, and blatant falsification of results. Lukashenka declared a victory of 76 percent to 16 percent for Hancharyk.

The two-term limit for the presidency in the 1996 Constitution, however, meant that Lukashenka faced the prospect of being forced to leave office after his current term ended in 2006. As this time approached, therefore, he decided to call a referendum to be held at the same time as the parliamentary elections that asked citizens to approve removal of the two-term limit.

The Parliamentary Elections and General Referendum

In response to previous election irregularities, the OSCE made numerous recommendations to improve both electoral legislation and practice in order to make the election process transparent and fair, especially in addressing the government’s control over election commissions and lack of independent observation of the voting and counting processes, candidate registration, and restrictions on campaigning as well as the overwhelming state bias in the media. No changes were made prior to the 2004 parliamentary elections.

To win a seat in parliament, candidates require a majority of votes of those who cast ballots. The referendum, having a higher threshold, requires approval by a full majority of all registered voters. Parliamentary candidates could be nominated by labor collectives larger than 300 people, any of 17 registered political parties (so long as there was a recognized organization in a candidate’s district), and self-nominations by petitions of 1,000 eligible voters. Each prospective candidate’s initiative group had to be approved by district election commissions and then each candidate’s application for a place on the ballot. According to the pre-election report of the Viasna Human Rights Center, there was widespread pressure on opposition or unfavored candidates throughout the application process, inhibiting the number of applications and leading to 21 candidates withdrawing applications. Only 359 of the 692 candidate applications were approved by the District Election Commissions, with nearly one-half of the opposition candidates (including four of six sitting members of parliament) denied a place on the ballot. The CEC reversed the decisions in one-quarter of 120 appeals, but usually for non-opposition candidates.

A variety of pro-Lukashenka, opposition, and independent candidates sought to contest for seats in the elections. Lukashenka loyalists came from parliament (60 existing members), labor collectives, and some parties, including those in the pro-Lukashenka Republican Coordinating Council of Leaders of Political Parties and Public Associations. While no electoral blocs were able to nominate candidates, five main opposition parties joined in a coalition called Five Plus --- the Belarus Popular Front, Belarus Social Democratic Hramada, United Civic Party, Belarusian Party of Communists, and Belarusian Labor Party (which was recently “liquidated” by the authorities) --- to coordinate election activities and field single candidates. A second group, called the Democratic Centrist Coalition, was an agreement of the Respublika deputy group, a small parliamentary opposition faction, the European Coalition “Free Belarus” (which included the Social Democratic Party National Hramada and the Women’s Party), and the “Young Belarus” Coalition. Overall, 122 candidates from the Five Plus and Democratic Centrist Coalitions were approved by the DEC. Several withdrew in favor of another opposition candidate.

In the run-up to the elections, at least twenty opposition candidates were removed from the ballot, ten during the early voting process, either by court order or decision of the Central or District Electoral Commissions. Nearly all were opposition candidates, as reported in several instances in the reports of IDEE’s monitors.

The IDEE mission arrived in Minsk on October 9-10 and received pre-electoral briefings by Viasna Human Rights Center, the mission’s on-the-ground coordinator. Viasna is one of Belarus’s most significant NGOs. Its director, Ales Bialatski, is a leader of the Congress of Democratic NGOs of Belarus. Viasna coordinated the 2001 presidential election monitoring campaign and several other monitoring campaigns. Its pre-electoral report for the parliamentary elections  (go to Archives: News: August 24, 2004) was widely used by Western monitoring organizations as a basis for information. Viasna organized meetings for the monitors with parliamentary candidates and their offices, NGOs, political parties, lawyers, and media representatives both in Minsk and in the districts they were sent to. The 18 monitors formed 9 teams of two. The teams were assigned to Minsk, Novopolotsk, Borisov, Bobruysk, Molodechno, Brest, Bykov, Mahilyev, and Shklow. In each region, the monitoring team observed numerous polling stations within several election districts.
 

Conclusion

In the mission’s Initial Report, the observers described totally undemocratic pre-election conditions, including widespread intimidation, manipulation of laws, unlawful removal of candidates, prevention of any campaign against the referendum, total state domination and bias of the media, the prevention of opposition participation in election commissions, violation of pre-election procedures, and the general lack of protection of democratic rights for the elections and referendum (see also the Viasna Human Rights Center’s pre-election report [http://www.spring96.org/English/]). During the five-day early voting period and on election day, the mission reported blatant fraud, intimidation, manipulation of laws, and a complete lack of transparency. They concluded:

What we have observed in Belarus from October 12 to 17, 2004 does not meet any electoral standards of democratic states and not even of the Belarusan Electoral Code.

This conclusion can be seen in the final results of the vote. Not a single opposition candidate won a seat in parliament. Only one forced the vote to a second round. The CEC announced that the referendum won by 75.6 percent, although an independent poll indicates that less than a majority of eligible voters gave their assent.

IDEE’s Final Report reaffirms the conclusions of the Initial Report (reprinted below). What follows is a more detailed accounting in reports (Appendix I) and articles (Appendix II) of the monitors themselves of how exactly the election process was manipulated and distorted by the Lukashenka regime in a way to ensure his continued rule and to thwart any free expression of the Belarusan electorate. IDEE’s observers also tell another story: of the many determined individuals, organizations, and parties committed to using peaceful and non-violent means to achieve a future democratic victory in Belarus. These efforts were thwarted in October 2004 --- but only temporarily.

IDEE’s monitors offered several recommendations: most importantly, they stated the importance of democratic activists returning to Belarus frequently in order to assess any changes in the situation and to provide ongoing moral and political support. Repressive measures should include expanding the list of persons who have no access to the European Union to those who have rigged the elections and above all to Lidia Yermushina, the chairperson of the Central Electoral Commission. Lukashenko’s suspected private accounts in the West ought to be found and confiscated.

 But there are further proposals aimed at overcoming the information barrier that Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime has put up around the country. The European Union would do well to finance an independent television and radio service broadcast from outside Belarusan territory. An extensive program of grants, financed by the European Union and by individual member states, should be set up. Visa fees should be reduced or totally abolished to allow Belarus citizens to travel to European countries. And, instead of punishing the opposition for the effectiveness of Lukashenko’s dictatorship, as is now being done, there should be expanded support for opposition and independent activities.

•  •  •  •  •
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The List of Belarus Elections Monitors
(Observation Sites in Parentheses)



 
 
 
 

Azerbaijan
   Eldeniz Ahmedov, journalist (Novopolotsk)
   Isaxan Ashurov, journalist (Borisov)
   Hikmet Hajizade, director FAR Center (Bobruysk)
   Xagani Huseynov, journalist (Molodechno)
   Shahla Ismailova, journalist (Novopolotsk)

Czech Republic
   Lubor Kysacan, journalist (Brest)
   Petr Machalek, journalist (Brest)
   Milan Stefanec, journalist (Minsk)
   Petrushka Sustrova, journalist, mission coordinator (Minsk)

Kazakhstan
   Saniya Sagnaeva, journalist (Borisov)

Kyrgyzstan
  Asylbek Ismailov, journalist (Molodechno)
  Alisher Toksonbaev, director, Media Resource Center and Center for Defense of Journalists in Osh (Minsk)

Poland
   Hanna Harasimowicz–Grodecka, journalist (Bykov, Mahilyev, and Shklow)
   Jan Kelus, journalist (Bykov, Mahilyev, and Shklow)
   Pawel Piekarczyk, coordinator, Office of Senator Romaszewski (Bobruysk )
   Tomas Pisula, assistant, Foundation for Defense of Human Rights (Minsk)
   Zbigniew Romaszewski, Senator of the Republic of Poland (Minsk)

Russia
   Azgar Ishkilgin, deputy editor, Prima Human Rights News Service (Minsk)


 
 
 
 



Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe

Initial Report

Observer Mission of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE)
for the General Elections and the Republican Referendum in Belarus
Conducted on October 12-17, 2004

Date: October 18, 2004

The Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) organized an independent observer mission consisting of 18 journalists from Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan, Poland, and Russia in order to monitor the Belarusian elections from October 9 to 18, 2004. In addition to the journalists, observer mission included the Honorable Senator Zbigniew Romaszewski from Poland.

The aim of the observer group was to investigate in detail the General Elections and the Republican Referendum on proposed amendments of the Belarusian Constitution scheduled on October 17. The observers monitored the elections and referendum in the cities and regions of Minsk, Bobruysk, Brest, Mogiliev, Molodechno, Borysov, and Novopolosk.

For the elections, Belarusans were to decide upon the composition of 110 seats of the parliament, with representatives elected in one-person constituencies by majoritarian vote. Parallel to the elections was the referendum on proposed changes to the Constitution. The referendum question was as follows: “Do you allow the first President of the Belarusian Republic, Lukashenko A.G., to participate as a candidate for the seat of the President in the forthcoming presidential elections and also agree that the first part of Article 81 of the Constitution might be amended to the following: “The President is elected for five years in the direct election by the Belarusian Nation in the free, equal, universal, direct and secretive elections under the Election Code.” In order to successfully amend the Constitution, there was required a 50 percent plus one positive vote of all eligible voters.

The Legal Principles

It should be stressed first that the Belarusian Electoral Code does not require electoral commissions to include any opposition members. The regulations do not even mention that the commissions should provide the opposition with the adequate opportunity to fulfill their duties. The opposition might suggest its members for the electoral commissions, but the commissions are not obliged to accept any of the opposition members.

It means that there are no real safeguards in effect for controlling the commissions and that the commissions can freely manipulate voters’ lists, ballots, and the vote count itself. Even in the rare event a commission allowed external observers (journalists or opposition members) to participate in its proceedings during the electoral process and in the vote count, they were almost always requested to sit in a remote place from which they could not effectively observe what took place at the commission’s table or near the ballot boxes.

Furthermore, the Belarusian Electoral Code restricts the possibility of conducting a proper electoral campaign. For example, a candidate’s campaign expenses cannot exceed $450, the amount provided by the state’s budget. The dissemination of electoral materials is also significantly restricted by the Code. They cannot be displayed freely on streets, nor disseminated as inserts in state-published papers. These strict legal regulations were often used as a premise to remove candidates from the lists for violating the electoral law. Only opposition or independent candidates were removed through this means. These regulations were hardly ever applied against the government’s candidates, notwithstanding the fact that they were the most frequent violators of such regulations.

The Campaign

At the same time, electoral campaigns in Belarus are a rare occasion for the opposition parties and politicians to express their views and openly advocate in their favor. In Belarusian reality, the dominating majority of the mass media is state-owned, while the independent press remains suppressed by various administrative means.

During the electoral campaign in September and the beginning of October, MP candidates were not provided with an equal opportunity to address their supporters. Opposition candidates were given only 5 minutes of airtime on TV and radio, while the government’s candidates were frequent visitors on various informational and analytical shows, thus escaping any comparison.

During the campaign for the referendum, all of Belarusian society, especially television viewers, were subjected to a dominating pressure to vote in favor of the amendments to the constitution, which would suspend presidential term limits and enable the incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, to be elected for a third term. Lukashenko fully occupied Belarusian television’s screens (according to data from the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Lukashenko took up 75-77 percent of airtime). Official propaganda tried to convince society that Lukashenko was the sole person who could secure Belarus’s stability, save the country from engaging in international conflicts, and prevent social disintegration, rising crime, and the invasion of foreign capital.

The October 14th issue of the state-published newspaper Sovyetskaya Byelarus is a classic example of such propaganda. In this issue, it stated its circulation as 863,125 copies, but other sources confirmed that on this day over 3,200,000 copies of the paper were distributed.

At the same time, the number of independently published papers was rigorously restricted. Real or alleged excessive numbers of each paper were punished by a fine, closure or suspension, and, finally, by the removal of the candidate linked to the paper. The aforementioned restrictive measures were applied only to opposition candidates. It should be noted that the evidence of those offenses was either fabricated or not even presented.

During the election campaign, over 10 non-state titles were suspended, including the local newspaper in Volkovysk and the regional newspaper in Molodechno.

“Pre-Electoral” Voting

Despite the fact that elections were scheduled for October 17, the balloting effectively started on October 12. According to official statements, voters who could not for whatever reason participate in the scheduled election and referendum were offered the chance to vote before the scheduled date. In reality, immense pressure was put on a vast number of voters to participate in elections in the week prior to the 17th and especially students housed in state-owned dormitories, workers in state-owned factories, administration employees, and soldiers.

Shortly before the elections and the referendum, the president issued an administrative decree changing the employment basis for all state-employed workers, shifting them from permanent employment to one-year renewable contracts. At the same time, the government issued a secret decree that the contractualization” of the workforce should be finalized before the 6th of October 2004.

Certain army units completed their balloting long before the official voting day, using 100 percent of the allocated ballots by Friday, the 15th and Saturday, the 16th of October.

In general, the pre-electoral voting was plagued by shortcomings and systematic breaches of the Electoral Code. Above all, only one voter list was provided, with the voters signing once for double ballots, regarding both the general elections, as well as the referendum. Additionally, during the first days of the pre-electoral voting, there was no official code in accordance to which the electoral commission could differentiate between the numbers participating in the general elections and in the referendum.

Unacceptable Practices Observed Nationally

        1. Many polling stations bore the official propaganda of pro-government candidates and position. A specific example were the referendum posters marked with the checked “In favor” option. Such agitation on the premises of voting stations is prohibited by law.

        2. Ballot boxes were often placed on the tables of electoral commission and no cabins for secret balloting were provided. This is a breach of the Belarusian Constitution, which guarantees a secret ballot in general elections. In polling station No. 26 of the city district Molodechno, for example, voters were forced to check their ballots in the school director’s office, in the presence of the Militia officer and the chairman of the electoral commission.

        3. In many of the stations, electoral commissions did not seal the ballot boxes, leaving centimeters-wide gaps between the lid and the box. In some districts, the chairmen of the electoral commission opened the ballot boxes each day and counted votes.

        4.  Hardly any of the commissions included opposition members.

        5.  During the pre-electoral voting period, the election commissions deleted names from the list of eligible voters. Many voters were removed, it was claimed, because they allegedly phoned the commissions to state their refusal to take part in the elections. This was a nation-wide undertaking aimed at lowering the number of eligible voters of every district and thus making it easier to achieve the referendum requirement for 50 percent plus one approval by all eligible voters.

        6.  During the pre-electoral voting period prior to the actual election day (October 17), more than 20 of 152 opposition candidates were removed from voting ballots solely based on falsified or simply ridiculous reasons.

The Belarus Popular Front (BPF) candidate Aleksey Yanukievich was removed from the list in Minsk on the basis of two letters from voters, one of which was anonymous. The authors of those letters complained that during the campaign two young people persuaded them to vote for Yanukievich and against the referendum. As a proof, they attached Yanukievich’s electoral handouts, a single copy of a newspaper Narodnaya Vola as well as old informational handouts distributed six months earlier. For the members of the district’s electoral commission, no further evidence was needed. They spoke with neither of the authors of these complaints and unanimously removed the candidate from the list.

Another BPF candidate, Alexey Michalevich, was removed from the candidate’s list in Minsk, after his team was alleged to have distributed campaign materials without the number of copies printed being indicated. In fact, the compromising material included 22 grammar mistakes, while the candidate was a graduate of a Belarusian-language secondary school. The photograph on the falsified handout was the exact one the candidate submitted during the registration process to the electoral commission.

Election Day

On Sunday, October 17, the elections and referendum officially took place. The voting was conducted in systematic violation of the Electoral Code, many examples of which we have described already above. In addition, we note further violations of the Electoral Code. One example: in polling station 15 in District 84 in Minsk, a number of voters were allowed to sign voter’s lists not only in their name but also in the name of absent voters, whose ballots could then be abused. We have also noted that at numerous polling stations voters were provided with more than one set of ballots.

The Vote Count

In the majority of polling stations, independent observers, journalists, and appointed representatives of the opposition were kept at a distance from electoral commission tables, so that they could not verify the count. One commission member in Bobruysk testified that he saw a signed version of the election protocols with final election results as early as October 13. In polling station 495 in Minsk District 107, one observer obtained the protocol with the final results well before the end of voting on election day. The results (save one number) were the same as those that were officially released a couple of hours later. According to Vladmir Labkovich, a representative of an opposition party, the commission in polling station 510 in Minsk did not even bother counting the ballots after the end of voting, just stacking them in two piles and wrapping them with a string. The grounds for the voting results published soon afterward by the commission remain a mystery. We have also observed that the chairmen and the members of electoral commissions were visibly more agitated as the election day went by, to the point where commission members, without any provocation, physically attacked two of our independent observers.

Conclusion

Our observer mission also gathered numerous testimonies from individuals corroborating the overall assessments. From the beginning of our stay, we collected a great deal of testimony indicating that the final results of the elections were decided upon long before the vote itself. After witnessing the electoral process and the vote count, we conclude that the officially published election results do not reflect the real will of the Belarusian people.

What we have observed in Belarus from October 12 to 17, 2004 does not meet any electoral standards of democratic states and not even of the Belarusian Electoral Code. A primary principle of a democratic election is transparency, as the citizens need to be sure that the final results are in accordance with their decision. The decision on the results of the General Elections and the Republican Referendum in Belarus 2004 was hidden from the view of the Belarusian and the international public.

Signed On Behalf of the IDEE Observer Mission:
Petruška Šustrová, Journalist and Mission Coordinator
•  •  •  •  •

Appendix I
Observer Reports: Chronicle of Election Fraud
(1)

Alisher Toksonbaev
Kyrgyzstan

Mr. Toksonbaev is President of the Foundation for Mass Media Development and the Association for Protection for Journalists’ Rights based in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. He observed the elections in Minsk with Azgar Ishkilgin, deputy editor of the PRIMA Human Rights Press Agency.

Minsk, October 14

Marina BOGDANOVICH, a deputy to the current Chamber of Representatives of the National Council, was removed from the ballot in Lidsk. According to Ms. Bogdanovich, her candidacy was revoked because of a presentation on the Lidsk radio in which she said: “The President, through the selling of unaccounted weapons, became a wealthy person in Belarus.”

Vladislav ZVERNIK, a teacher, journalist, and candidate for deputy in the Molodencheskii okrug No. 86, stated that his main rival, Mr. Jdanuk, from the city of Volojin, is openly supported by two district executive committees and a regional commission, giving Mr. Jdanuk access to all the favors of state institutions, a privilege Mr. Zvernik does not enjoy.

Sergei Arkadievich ALFER, deputy head of the United Civic Party on the candidate’s list to the Chamber of Representatives, reported to the CEC that the current deputy for Eseninskii District No. 101 sent materials to the electorate in violation of the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus.

A. P. VOITOVICH, former head of the National Council the Republic of Belarus, a scholar, and organizer of the initiative “For Fair Elections,” told us the following: “Of the more than 500 candidates to district election candidates put forward by the opposition political parties, only 27 have been accepted; of 1,900 candidates submitted as candidate representatives for the district election commissions, only 140 were accepted. As a result, election commissions are almost totally made up of the representatives of state-subordinate structures.”

Anatoliy LEBEDKO, the head of the United Civic Party stated:
 

The level of pressure and threats is unprecedented in the whole ten years of Lukashenka’s rule. In the Frunze region, there is even a special list of instructions that elaborates the format on which reports of the result of elections have to be delivered. Three telephone numbers are listed, all belonging to the regional executive committee. According to law, the district election commissions have to send all information to the regional election commission. But now they are instructed first to send them to the regional executive before being sent further.

Sergei Kalyakin, the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Republic of Belarus and a candidate for parliament, said the following to the local and international independent media:

Criminal groups like the presidential administration, the MIA [Ministry Of Internal Affairs], and the ideological departments of the executive committees are using black ops. Their actions can be considered a criminal offence under Article 192 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, which provides imprisonment for up to 5 years for the forgery of election documents, incorrect counting of votes, and other actions that distort the will of the citizens.

At Polling Station No. 106, a student dormitory, 1,339 votes, or 85 percent of the entire vote, were counted as having been cast by October 14. Of these, 75.3 percent voted in favor of the referendum (ending the two-term limit). In the race for parliament, Kalyakin   received 1.8 percent, Artishevskiy, 11 percent, and the pro-government candidate, Polyanskiy, 85.1 percent.

At Polling Station No. 493, a dormitory of the Belarus State University, a voter tore up his a ballot. He was put in an arm lock and the ballot taken away from him. Now he can face possible criminal charges: “Theft of petty state property.”

Minsk, October 15, 2004

In Eastern Election District No. 107:

At Polling Station No. 494, there were 830 registered voters. Seventy people had voted.

At Polling Station No. 495, the head of the election commission, Vladimir Ardashkov, stated there were 1,831 registered voters. Fifteen hundred ballots had been received from the regional committee for early voting. Before our visit, 100 people had voted.

At Polling Station No. 496, the head of the election commission, Natalia Kirillovskaya, refused to provide a list of voters under the pretext that it might change during the process of voting. There is no accounting of early votes. People are allowed to vote with student and pensioner IDs. The lists are composed with suggestion of the local housing authority.

At Polling Station No. 497, we observed: (1) Concealing the lists of voters; (2) Lack of safekeeping provided for the ballot boxes; (3) Lack of a journal for registering complaints; and (4) Public display near voting stations of a poster with threatening excerpts from the Administrative Code, relating to “Petty theft of state property,” “Libel,” and “Insult” intended to intimidate any expression of opposition sentiment or the invalidation of a ballot.
 

At Polling Station No. 498, the head of the local election commission, Ivan Rykovskii, declared that there were [so far] 1,953 voters. People were allowed to vote only with passport identification (see above: according to Decree No. 251 of the Central Election Commission dated October 12, 2004, valid documents include passport, pensioner’s ID, or student ID).

At Polling Station No. 499, the head of the election commission, Albert Kuznetsov, stated that there were 1,500 registered voters, among whom 498 had already voted early. . . .

At Polling Station No. 504, the head of the election commission, Vladimir Bulanov, presented lists of voters with about 2,000 people. There is no counting of the number of people voted yet.

At Polling Station No. 506, the head of the election commission, Stanislav Belonovich, is very rude towards observers from CIS. He refused to provide information. He did not allow journalists to talk to different observers from some candidates. People who come to the station are quickly moved away. Despite the lack of cooperation, we still found out that this polling station has about 1,800 registered voters. An independent observer from the Belarus Language Society told us that . . . people vote without presenting proper documents.

Three polling stations (No. 504, No. 506, No. and 508) are situated in one room of a ministerial building. Secrecy of the ballot is not observed. The police guard Genadii Kuharenko allows people to go inside the Polling Station No. 506 only with permission of the members of the commission and watches over the voting.

At Polling Station No. 503, there are approximately 1,500 registered voters. According to Ekaterina Kazak, the local election commission head, people voted very actively on the 12th, 13th and 14th of October, but there is no accounting of votes cast. All members of the commission are the workers of the Center for Extra-Curricular Work of the Sovetskiy sub-region. Stanislav Bogdanov, an observer from the Belarus Popular Front (BPF), was forced to leave the voting station on October 13. . . . According to him, 178 votes were cast on October 12; 57 votes on October 14; and 28 people so far today.

Polling Station No. 516 also has approximately 1,500 registered voters. According to the head of the local election commission, Elena Plonevich, 25 percent of all voters had voted early, but she said the voting list is still being corrected [and thus could not be examined]. It was not known who was correcting the list. On October 12, the observer from the BPF, Alexandr Gurinov, was forced to leave the room on the grounds that he had violated Article 13 of the Election Code (interfering with the work of the members of the election commission). Here people can vote using identity documents (according to Decree No. 251 of the Central Election Commission dated October 12, 2004, valid documents include only a passport, pensioner’s ID, or student ID). All members of the commission are members of the same institution, the Minsk State Trade College, except a few belonging to the Regional Soviet Executive Committee.

At Polling Station No. 517, the heads of the election commissions are not present. A member of the commission, Valentin Rendov, refused to provide information.
 

The Headquarters of the Belarus Popular Front party: It is reported that the BPF vice chairman, Alexander Yanukovich, a candidate for deputy to the Chamber of Representatives for District No. 94, was removed from the candidate's list allegedly due to complaints of two voters (whose names are not revealed) that supporters of Yanukovich gave out a flysheet inside the newspaper Narodnaya Volya with an appeal to vote against the referendum. The flysheet in fact contained the program of the political party coalition “Five Plus" [which included a call to boycott the referendum to deny approval by a majority of registered voters].

Minsk, October 16, 2004

In Eastern Election District No. 107:

At Polling Station No. 508, the local election commission made party observer Alexander Balerianovich Muhin leave the polling station after several warnings. Mr. Muhin was an observer for the Belarus Language Society who protested that the voting box was unsealed by throwing paper into the open box. Six out of 13 members of the commission voted that he had to leave. The head of the election commission, Mr. Romanchuk, refused to comment on the actions of the observer.

At Polling Station No. 496, the head of the local election commission, Nataliya Kirillivskaya, refused to register several complaints of violations of the election code [on the part of the election commission] made by Mr. Kandral, a designated representative for a parliamentary candidate Mr. Vecherkin. As a result, he sent the report of violations to the Eastern District Election Commission No. 107 and the prosecutor’s office. According to the Mr. Kandral, the preparation and carrying out of elections were not conducted in an open and transparent manner and that the lists of the citizens who have a right to participate in elections and referenda were not available for inspection by the public 15 days before the elections and referendum, which are violations of Article 13 and Article 21 the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus.

At Polling Stations No. 502, No. 508, No. 513, and No. 525, people are allowed to vote at their actual residency and also according to their propiska [a person’s official place of residency registered in one’s passport], in this way allowing voting at more than one place. At most of the stations, the seal on the ballot box belongs to the [state] institutions in whose buildings the elections and referendum take place rather than to the election commission.

At Polling Station No. 516, the local commission forbids taking photos until the intervention of international observers. The secretary of the district sub-commission Irina Sereda said “the decision of the commission to make the BPF observer Andrei Zabadskoi leave the polling station (on the grounds of interfering with the work of the commission) is final and is not a subject for a discussion. Mr. Zabadskoi can only observe in other districts.” Requests for voting at home are received either by phone or through other people.
 

At Polling Station No. 510: According to the secretary of the district commission, Ms Ludmila Lynchevskaya, the list of registered voters has 1,026 people. There are 8 observers from different public associations and parties. The district commission has 15 members. One is a representative of the regional executive commission; the rest are employees of the automobile station “Belpochta.” Diana Mikulskaya, the observer from the BPF, said “People come to vote without documentation. According to our count, only 20 people requested voting at home.” Ms. Lyanchevskaya claimed “There are already 152 people who requested to vote at home due to the health reasons.” The head of the commission is absent because he is called to the city executive.

At Polling Station No. 507, the head of the district commission, Anatoli Kurilchin, said that about 15 to17 percent of the electorate voted in the pre-electoral voting. Out of 13 members of the commission there was only one [opposition] representative.

At Polling Station No. 515, there are 2,140 registered voters. The observer from the BPF, Tatiana Chijova, said that the election commission did not allow [opposition representatives or observers] to approach the voter registrar table. Members of the commission are afraid to talk to the designated representatives of candidates or observers from international and local organizations. The head of the committee for national security received a ballot simply by showing his work ID [which is not a valid voting identification document].

At Polling Station No. 511, there are 1,141 registered voters, of whom 20 percent took part in the pre-electoral voting. The commission does not allow seeing the lists of voters. Except for one representative of the regional executive committee, the rest of the 14-member election commission work at the Politechnical University in Minsk.

At Polling Station No. 494, the head of the local commission, Inessa Klassinskaya, refused to state even the number of registered voters in her polling district. There are only government related members in this electoral commission.

At Polling Station No. 503, we were able to examine the list of voters together with a candidate for the Chamber of Representatives for the eastern district, Evgeni Doronin. There is no column for notating the date of voting. Voters just sign their names. “This can be used for falsifying the results since the commission can put in date under the signatures,” said Mr. Doronin. Of 28 people who had voted since that morning, none had dates next to their signatures.

Minsk, October 17, 2004

In Orshansk Election District No. 26, no observers of the PCB's candidate were allowed at polling stations. After an appeal of the candidate, Nikolai Demidov, the Central Election Commission of Belarus agreed that observers from this party be allowed at the polling stations, but the district commission ignored the CEC's decision.

In Esenin Election District No. 61, according to Zinaida Bondarenko, an artist and candidate for parliament in the town of Smorgon, the militia detained and cross-examined six OSCE observers at the local police station and then released them. At Polling Station No. 286 in the same district, observers were not provided with the number of registered voters at the polling station. There is no data about the number of people who took part in pre-electoral voting. There are no sealed ballot boxes for pre-electoral voting or for home voting. Members of the election commission left and took an unknown number of ballots with them without inviting observers.
 

At Polling Station No. 18 in Borisov Election District No. 78, an elderly man was given the passport of a person from the same village who had died several years ago. The live voter took the passport and voted twice. At Polling Station No. 36 in the same district a voter living on Prishvin St. (the name is withheld on request for reasons of security) was not allowed to take part in the pre-electoral voting. On the day of elections, he saw that there were already two signatures in the place where the rest of his family should have signed. Members of the election commission offered him 10,000 rubles [approximately $5] not to lodge a complaint.

At Polling Station No. 26, Molodenchesky Election District No. 85, it was reported that there were no voting booths from October 12 to 14 so voters had to fill out ballot boxes in the room of the school director directly in front of the militiaman and the head of the election committee.

In Esenin Election District No. 101, at the campus of the Belarus Medical University, the local commission opened the pre-electoral voting box. It was reported that they forced students to put in 870 early ballots. The district commission’s head said that 82 percent voted for the referendum, but observers said only one hundred people voted for it, and the rest against it.

At Polling Station No. 496 in Eastern Election District No. 107, BPF observer Eveginya Savko was expelled by force because she was keeping track of the number of people who voted. Militia took her to the Internal Affairs Office of the Soviet District of Minsk.

In Kalinin Election District No. 108, there are three candidates: Abramova Olga, current Deputy of the Chamber of Representatives; Nikolai Statkievich, the head of Social Democratic Party “Hramada”; and Yuri Hodyko, a candidate for the BPF. At Polling Station No. 556, even on the official election day, the list of voters is still being updated. As of 8:00 o’clock, 27 people had voted, as of 9:00 o’clock, 40 persons, as of 10.00 o’clock, 90 persons, and as of 11.00 o’clock, 200 persons. The head of the commission did not introduce himself. There was a military officer from the Ministry of Emergency Situations present. According to BPF observers Andrei Matsuk and Oleg Kaidov, unidentified people often walked to the district police officer, showed their IDs, and talked for a long time. An officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs forbade videotaping the election process. He referred to the head of the election commission for giving him permission to do so. But the police officer took photos hovering over polling stations.

At Polling Station No. 613 in Partisan Election District No. 110, there are 1,144 registered voters. Seven hundred and sixty-one persons, or 66 percent, took part in the pre-electoral voting. In the morning of October 17, two hundred and fifty more people voted, or nearly 90 percent.

At Polling Station No. 157 in the Chikalovsk Election District, the election commission reported that 66 percent of people took part in pre-electoral voting.

General Observations

The official delegation of observers from CIS countries [organized by the Russian Federation] openly interfered in the elections on the side of the government. Their members appeared on national television saying, “We support reforms in Belarus. The president of the country carries out the right policy.” This was an unacceptable breach of the Election Code. There was open official political agitation on the day of voting and the Election Commissions did not take down posters.

In all the election districts, there is no separate line on the registrar for people to sign their names for the referendum [despite the opposition call for a boycott of the referendum]. People signed only to vote for the election of deputies of the Chamber of Representatives. The results of the referendum should therefore be doubted and the referendum should not be considered legal.

Contrary to presidential Decree No. 1 forbidding the selling of alcoholic beverages on the day of the elections and referendum, many institutions and organizations openly sold alcoholic beverages and had available other refreshments and food where the polling stations were situated.

Provisions allowing voting at home was clearly used as an instrument to pressure the electorate, for example in Polling Station No. 2 of Masukovsi Election District No. 104.

In a number of places, voting was ended by 4 p.m. on October 17. At special hospitals for the employees of the KGB, 97 percent of the electorate voted for the referendum.

Of 184 candidates nominated by democratic parties and civic initiatives, including the BPF, UCP, SDP, PCB, and APB in the Five Plus Coalition, 179 people submitted their documents, of whom 98 were registered by district electoral commissions and 28 by the Central Election Commission, or 126 total. Of these, 14 candidates withdrew under government pressure while 6 withdrew in favor of other candidates, leaving 106 candidates of pro-democratic forces. In the districts we observed, Vladislav Tokarev (BPF) was removed for harsh criticism of the referendum. Mariya Bogdanovich and Alexander Tsynkevich were removed for “libel against the President” in election campaign leaflets that contained only well supported arguments against the head of state.

At 11 a.m. on October 17, the TV station “LAD” showed a small video about activists from the Belarus Republican Union of Youth conducting surveys at the polling station. About 8,000 voters were surveyed and it was claimed that 82 percent voted for the referendum. Article 46 of the Election Code states: “In the last 10 days before elections or a referendum, it is not allowed to publish results of public opinion polls related to elections or a referendum or issue prognoses of anticipated results.”

On the day of elections, the web-sites of OGP, Viasna, and the Belarusan service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were blocked.

Pavel Sheremet, Russia Televison's “Channel One” correspondent, was forced to leave a polling stations in Minsk by police. He was hospitalized with a head injury.

•  •  •  •  •



Observer Reports: Chronicle of Election Fraud
(2)

Milan Stefanec, Journalist
Czech Republic

Minsk, October 15
Polling Station Observation

    1. Polling Station No. 46, Avtozavodski [Electoral] District: The commission refuses to register an observer with proper credential and refuses to provide any information, as required. An older woman needed a certificate about her voting for her employer. There are posters of the pro-government candidate and in favor of the referendum in plain view. There are no other posters allowed. A member of commission said that these materials are from the Central Electoral Commission.
The chairman of the commission and his deputy are both absent. One commission member challenged, “Why do you ask? What for? It is only an election. It means no change.”

    2. Polling Station No. 47, Avtoyavodski [Electoral] District: The local commission crossed off from the voting list people whom they claim called to say that they would not vote. When asked if it was possible for a voter only to register a preference for a candidate and not the referendum, or vice versa, the member of the commission said that it was impossible and a “violation of the voting process.”

When asked why only propaganda of the pro-government candidate and the referendum the member of the commission said that agitation at the voting site is a violation of electoral law. The policeman refused to act [to take down the propaganda].

Milan Kysucan and Petr Machalek, Journalists
Czech Republic

Brest Region, October 15
A.  The General Situation

   1. There are policemen in [polling stations of] most of the constituencies.
   2. The members of election commissions are reluctant to provide information.
   3. There is an absence of observers at polling stations.
   4. There are observers registered but not present from pro-government organizations (like the Republic Union of Veterans or the Republic Union of Youth) or        from local authorities, polkoms.
   5. At polling stations, there are only posters of pro-government candidates.
   6. According to information from the chairmen and members of the local polling site election commissions, the number of pre-election voters (i.e. voting from October 12-15) vary from 5 percent to up to 50 percent.

B.  Specific Examples

    1. Polling Station No. 26, Brest Central Electoral District No. 2: The representative of the opposition candidate was not admitted to the voting site despite having submitted his officially approved observers card. The chairman of the local commission required in addition that he provide a party membership card and proof of payment of membership dues [which are outside any requirements in the law].

The opposition candidate was not admitted to the voting site. The chairman of the election commission called for members of the OMON (special riot troops of the ministry of the interior) to take out him from the premises. The OMON also forcibly took out Mr. Machalek, the report’s author, despite his having an official accreditation as a journalist with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus.

    2. Polling Station No. 7, Khatislavski District: Conditions appeared OK.

    3. Polling Station No. 78, Melnikovski District: Here, there was no place for observers to monitor the process. The ballot box is not sealed and it is possible to open it to put ballots in. In the list of voters, there is a notation by each voter of the date of voting. It is clear that whole groups of voters were signed by the same hand.

    4. Polling Station No. 76, Radezski District: The constituency commission and one policeman were sitting in the small office of the director of school and there was also voting lists and the ballot box. True voting place was in the other room where were only voting booths. No places for the observers.

    5. Polling Station No. 38, Dubokski District: There exists very large list of old or invalid voters who can not come to the constituency. Policeman answered on our questions together with members of constituency.

    6. Polling Station No. 87, Cherski District: Only one member of the local commission and a policeman were present. When we asked where the other members of the commission were (according to the law, there has to be at least two members present at all times during pre-election voting), we were told he had to go home because his house was on fire. At this site also, as generally, it was clear that one hand signed for groups of voters on the list and the ballot box was not sealed.

C.   The Candidates

[The following problems were reported by the candidates]

    1. N. K. Kovac reported problems in registering his candidacy, in organizing meetings with voters, obstacles placed in the way of observers and representatives, who were not able to be present at either local or district commissions. His respresentatives reported that ballot boxes were not being guarded during the night or day.

    2.  Zinaida Michnuk experienced constant surveillance by secret policemen as she distributed campaign materials. Her election staff were impeded regularly by the authorities and could not work normally.

    3. Jakob Vasilevich Kachalovskiy’s employer received anonymous threatening telephone calls [regarding Kachalovski] after he announced his candidacy.

    4. V. I. Stepanov: an injurious pamphlet appeared in mail boxes of all citizens in his district.

Also, a reporter of private TV Bug noted that there was no possibility for criticism of failures of pre-electoral and electoral process because of the constant threat of being closed down.

D. Other General Observations

There are qualified citizens who registered to vote but who are not on the voting lists and they can not vote. At the same time, members of polling station election commissions are informing employers about those employees who still did not vote.

Brest Region, October 15

A.  Polling Stations

    1. Polling Station No.  15, Brest Western District I: Half the members of the commission are teachers where the chairman is school director. Contrary to electoral law, commission members visited invalid and old voters with the ballot box [without request].

    2. Polling Station No. 5 (Matyali) and No. 6, Brest Central District: Police men and women openly advise voters how to vote. Many unidentified people without accreditation come to ask how many voters had come. Inside the voting booth [at polling station no. 6], there are placed already filled out ballots with “yes” for the referendum.

At Polling Station no. 5, there is actually no voting booth or screen and people fill ballots out at the table directly in front of the police and election commission members. While we were there, the local commission member called a superior to ask about “news.” Today, we are told that only 5-7 percent of voters had cast ballots, although two days earlier, another commission member reported that 80 percent had already voted.

    3. Polling Station No. 14 (Vystichenski): Inside the voting booth are placed already filled out ballots filled out for the pro-government candidate [and “yes” for the referendum]. Members of commission filed charges against our guide, a registered observer from the opposition, who allegedly “expelled” voters from the polling station. Nothing of the sort took place.

    4. Polling Station No. 48 (Zhabenkovski): The voting booth sample “instruction” ballot states how to vote in the referendum (“yes”). Thirty percent of voters have already voted. The director of this school [is the local commission chairman]. He said that he had to work in favor of the existing political system because he wanted to stay in his current job.

    5. Polling Station in Rakitnica: The policeman on duty was in charge of controlling the voter registration list and marking the names as they voted. The head of the local administration and several other mysterious looking people are present.

    6. Polling Station No. 52 (Staroye Syalo): There is a policeman on site. The commission refused to show us the voter registration list.

    7.  Polling Station No. 13 for Brest Central District: During the night of October 15-16, observers saw a light and a man and a woman in the room where the ballot box was stored. In the morning, the observers asked for an explanation from the commission. One member said that they were the parents of the policeman bringing him some food. But the policeman himself said that it was a control visit by his superiors.

B.  General Observations

    1. All posters of opposition candidates are taken down. Their “lifetime” for visibility on average is about twenty minutes.

    2. Some voters ask commissioners for a certificate that they voted in order to show their employers.

    3. Students from colleges and employees are obliged to vote in the pre-election voting period. Teachers and employers all ask in their constituencies about who still has not voted.

•  •  •  •  •



Observer Reports: Chronicle of Election Fraud
(3)

Saniya Sagnaeva
Kazakhstan

Saniya Sagnaeva, a journalist from Kazakhstan, is a Senior Analyst for the International Crisis Group/Central Asia. She observed the elections in Borisov.

Belarusian Election Code

The election law contradicts international norms, has a lot of gaps, and does not guarantee transparency of the election process. [Among others:]

• The status of the observer is not defined.

• The law includes additions and instructions from the Central Elections Committee that directly contract other parts of the election code. These instructions are not available for the candidates, international and local observers and electorate.

• According to the law, political parties can be represented in the electoral commission, however there are no guarantees for their representation, such as using quotas.

• There is no requirement for formal proof of a qualified reason for pre-election voting, which thus becomes a main way for manipulating votes and other violations.

The Election Campaign

A special edition of the newspaper Sovetskaya Byelorussiya with a direct appeal to vote yes for the referendum was delivered to everyone’s post box in the Borisov district [the special edition was distributed to all voters throughout Belarus in approximately 2.5 million copies].

• The candidates from the opposition were prevented from contesting elections throughout the registration stage.

• Under some made-up pretexts, the initiative group and proposed representatives of the opposition candidates were denied registration as observers.

• Meetings of pro-government candidates with voters generally took place in factories, workplaces, and schools. The opposition candidates and general electorate did not have access to these facilities. [Few people attend the official meetings in any case.]

• The candidates from the opposition . . . were not invited to meetings organized by clubs and did not have equal chances to meet the electorate.

Pre-Electoral Voting

• According to the Election Code, the safekeeping of the ballot boxes during breaks (for lunch and at night) has to be provided by police. We observed that there were no guaranteed procedures for the safekeeping of ballot boxes.

• The secrecy of the ballot is not guaranteed. There was a lack of voting cabins. Instead different boxes constructed of cardboard are set on the tables in full public view.

Election Day

• Opening of the ballot boxes at the beginning of the Election Day was not done with the presence of the observers.

• Ballots from home-site voting was a clear method to falsify votes. For example in Borisov, in one of the polling stations there were allegedly 129 requests for pre-electoral voting at home. While this number would require at least 11 hours time counting only 5 minutes per vote collected, observers reported that the one election official in charge of this task took just 2 hours to collect all the votes.

• It was a common practice for voters to go to the polling station and booths in pairs in cases that are stipulated by election law.

• The rights of polling station observers were limited: they could not fully monitor the process because they were forbidden from observing the issuing of ballots. Observers often could not see ballot boxes because they are seated far away from them.

• During the day of elections there are official representatives, three to four police officers. They also check the documents of international and local observers.

• The authorities promised voters that there would be lower-priced food at any cafeterias situated at the polling station.

The Process for Vote Counting

Observers were present at polling stations during the counting of votes, but could not see the vote counting process because they sat far from the table. The head of the commission did not announce when counting was taking place. Attempts of observers to monitor this procedure are stopped by the militia, who are also present.

The Electorate

• Trust in the fairness and honesty of the elections was undermined by the way previous elections had been conducted. There was a clear lack of transparency during elections and counting of votes, especially the work of election commissions on all levels.

• State administrative resources are used as a way to force people to vote. The system of work contracts [which require yearly renewal by all workers] is a main way to pressure electorate during the election process.

Electoral Bodies

The electoral commissions at all levels were chosen by state executive bodies and consisted of employees of state institutions who are vulnerable to the pressures of state authorities. The lack of representatives of the political parties, despite the guarantee in the law for their presence, makes the commissions at all levels fully obedient to the will of the current state administration and president. All district committees are situated in the buildings of the state executive bodies and are not accessible to the electorate or observers. Even international observers had difficulties in having meetings with district committees.
 

•  •  •  •  •
 

Observer Reports: Chronicle of Election Fraud
(4)

Pawel Piekarczyk
Poland

Pawel Piekarzczyk, representing the Foundation for Defense of Human Rights, is Director of the Office of Senator Zbigniew Romaszewski. He observed the elections in Bobruysk with Hikmet Hajy-zadeh, director of the FAR Research Center in Baku, Azerbaijan.

General Remarks

I observed the elections in Bobruysk between October 14 and 18, in the company of the Azerbaijani journalist and political scientist Hikmet Hajy-zadeh . Our duties involved:
 

• Regular meetings with candidates and their electoral teams;
• Participation as observers in a door-to-door campaign of one of the candidates;
• Meetings with the local authorities;
• Observing the elections during the “pre-electoral” voting, as well as on the election day;
• Observing the vote count in one particular polling station, suggested by one of the candidates; and
• Observing the alternative vote count conducted by one of the observer teams.
It is our joint opinion that the General Elections and the Referendum have been falsified to such a degree that it places into question the officially announced results. The key methods of election-rigging that were observed included:
• Filling “pre-electoral” ballot boxes with unauthorized ballots,
• Manipulating the eligible voters’ lists,
• Manipulating the process of registering candidates,
• Systematic abuse by the state of its official position during the campaign, as evidenced by the omnipresence of state propaganda and the prohibition of opposition activity.
In addition, we observed other abuses of the electoral code such as: placing ballots with “yes” checked for the referendum question inside voting cabins; displaying propaganda favorable to the authorities as well as posters of the regime’s candidates inside polling stations; the use of open ballot boxes; the existence of ballot boxes placed hidden from the observers’ view; polling stations displaying official information about only the pro-regime candidate; vote counts taking place even while voting is still taking place and destruction of unused ballots.

Considering the major methods of falsification observed and listed above, this second category of abuses mentioned here did not play as decisive a role in determining the officially announced final result of the elections. I will thus describe mostly details of the major abuses that occurred. Nevertheless, all of these other abuses were frequent, generally observed, and documented and photographed by this team of observers.

The Election Campaign

During the campaign period, all propaganda objecting to the regime’s proposals, including the referendum proposal to rescind the term limit for the presidency, was restricted, while pro-government activity was overbearing. In addition, the official mass media did not inform the public sufficiently about the purpose of elections. Thus, citizens we met during Aleksander’s Chigir door-to-door campaign in Bobruysk, as well as many voters at the polls were surprised to learn that they were supposed to choose MPs and knew that they were expected to vote (in effect) for Lukashenko. The hotel that we stayed at bore numerous, colorful posters favorable to the regime, whereas a single sticker with the “Vplus” [Five Plus Coalition] was removed within minutes. Aleksander Chigir (Electoral District No. 65, Bobruysk city) and Mikhail Kovalkov (Electoral District No. 63, Bobruysk Leninski district) complained that their propaganda materials, posters, and handouts were systematically destroyed and removed. On the other hand, the regime’s materials, were automatically refurbished. As well, the candidates reported that meetings arranged for them by the State Electoral Commission in state factories were always organized during working hours, with workers’ requests for absences and absences at the plant carefully noted. State-sponsored candidates had meetings with almost all the workers forcibly gathered in one place.

An Unusual Conclusion: Meeting the State’s Candidate

On October 15, we spoke with the candidate sponsored by the regime, Mr . Kulakovski. He is a current deputy of Lukashenko’s in the Chamber of Representatives for the Mohylevska Oblast’ (Electoral District No. 65, Bobruysk village). We asked Mr. Kulakovski about his predictions for the election outcome in his district. He expected to receive 65 percent of all votes and Chigir to receive 15 percent, he said. While distributing flyers on the same day, one member of Chigir’s electoral team was told in a private flat in Bobruysk (Buharov’s St. 27a, apt. 56) that all his efforts were in vain, since the results were already set and all protocols signed. Kulakovski had received 63 percent and Chigir 14 percent of votes. This surprising coincidence of electoral predictions was noted by Chigir’s team for an official complaint. The District Electoral Commission initially refused to receive it, backing down only after the complaining party threatened to inform international journalists. The OSCE’s Short-Term Observers in Bobruysk also refused to receive the complaint, despite being independently contacted by us. I received the official election results from Mr. Kulakovski over the phone on the afternoon of October 18. They were: Kulakovski 63,9 percent; Chigir 13,9 percent.

The Voting and the Vote-Count

In Electoral District No. 65 (Bobruysk village), only a few of the commissions allowed observers to witness the vote-count. Of these, Kulakovski won over Chigir in the pre-electoral voting by at least ten times the figures counted on election day. There is no such data from the other commissions, since the available protocols contained just the overall vote result. Pre-electoral and election day breakdowns were noted only on internal and unobtainable protocols.

The candidate Mikhail Kovalkov for Electoral District No. 63, Bobruysk Leninski district, who is an independent trade union leader, told us that he succeeded in placing observers in some of the polling stations for the entire pre-electoral voting period. His observers noted the number of people placing their ballots in ballot boxes. In all of these stations, in the count, each ballot box contained two or three times more ballots than the number noted by the observers. The potential consequence of such falsification is enormous. In Electoral District no. 65, for example, it is claimed that 44 percent of citizens on the voter registration rolls participated in the pre-electoral voting.

On numerous occasions, people coming to the polling stations found their names already crossed out as having already voted. The candidate Mikhail Kovalkov mobilized a dozen or so voters who had not participated in previous elections. The majority of them turned out to have been marked as “already voted.” Furthermore, the eligible voters’ list contained people who had long ago deceased. Such information has been collected by us from independent candidates.

It should be noted that on the election day, the commissions` chairmen were highly reluctant to provide any information on the voter turnout in the pre-electoral voting. The data was obtained only after we phoned the Chairman of the District Electoral Commission.

Warsaw, October 24th, 2004
Appendix II
Observer Articles: Chronicle of an Election Fraud
(1)

“In Belarus Under Lukashenko, Everything is Possible”
by Petruška Šustrová

Petruška Šustrová, a journalist from the Czech Republic, was coordinator of the IDEE monitoring mission to Belarus of observers from former Soviet bloc countries. She is former editor of Lidové noviný and winner of the prestigious Karel Havlícek Borovský Award for exceptional journalism in 1999. In 1990-91, she served as deputy minister of internal affairs of Czechoslovakia. Before 1989, she was a spokesperson of the Charter 77 movement and member of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS). She wrote the following four articles for Lidové noviný describing her experiences in Belarus monitoring the parliamentary elections and referendum.

These Are Not Elections, They Are a Farce

What would you think if, three days before elections are to be held, a member of the electoral commission were to tell you that the votes had already been counted, that the records had already been signed, and that the pro-government candidate would receive 65 percent of all votes and the candidate of the opposition would get 14 percent? Or if, when entering the polling station, you discover that there are no screens around the voting areas, and that the ballot boxes were placed right on the table of the electoral commission? . . . These are not bold surrealist dreams but what is actually happening this week in Minsk and in other Belarus cities. There were countless unlawful events in Belarus these days, bordering on absurdity. It was no wonder then that in the street, in the shops, and on the bus or in the underground people were saying how the elections were certainly rigged. This view is unquestionably correct. But incomplete.

[. . .] Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has made sure that the media manipulates public opinion in his favor well before polls open. A citizen of a democratic state needs strong nerves to follow the Belarus election campaign in the media. One can hardly take seriously commercials showing the President crossing a field of wheat followed by a close-up of him caressing a grain from a stalk. From the top half page of Thursday’s newspaper, the President, walking hand in hand with a young pioneer carrying a bunch of red roses, waves to readers --- even for someone without much democratic experience or refined taste, it is strong coffee.

Of course, this can be written off as political propaganda. Every politician tries to put himself forward in a positive light, even with intelligence. [. . .] [T]his process applies to all parties and to every politician. But things are different in Belarus; there is no room for any opposition. There is room only for one politician: Alexander Lukashenko. In Belarus, there is not even a strong government party. “Government” candidates --- meaning pro-Lukashenko --- come from a handful of small and subservient political parties and institutions. The Belarus President does not use transmission belts like parties. He exercises power in a vertical manner; taking all decisions himself.
 

Lukashenko decided to use the elections to hold a referendum to change the Constitution so that he would be allowed a third term of office. . . . The Belarus Constitution allows only two-terms for the President, but since time flies, Lukashenko’s power is due to expire in 2006. It is virtually impossible to escape the propaganda “in favor” of the referendum (which means for Lukashenko having another term of office). Constantly repeated spots on television teach voters how to fill in their ballot papers, albeit unlawfully since the ad refers to crossing the column only for the one “in favor.” There are leaflets all over the place saying, “Vote for Belarus,” which means vote for Lukashenko. Alexander Lukashenko and Belarus are one and the same in this propaganda.

But not all voters are manipulated by this kind of propaganda and so there are those determined to vote “against” in the referendum and cast their votes for opposition candidates. It is not easy for them. They are threatened with dismissal from their job and by various acts of repression. Moreover, their efforts are most likely in vain because --- as Stalin used to say --- it is not important who votes or how he votes, but who counts the ballot papers. The electoral law does not permit opposition observers in the polling commissions.

While elections are officially held on Sunday, October 17, “pre-electional voting” started on Tuesday, October 12, a period during which the authorities compelled students and a number of civil servants to participate in the elections. There is only one electoral register in the polling stations. We asked, “And what if someone wanted to vote but did not want to cast his vote in the referendum? How is one to mark this next to his or her signature on the electoral register?” The chairwomen of the commission replied, “I, too, asked that question. I was told to do what I liked.”

Initially, more than one hundred opposition candidates had stood in the elections but no one knew how many there really were today since the authorities were crossing some of them off the ballot every day, for example for engaging in election propaganda on the basis of a fraudulent leaflet. How can a candidate be withdrawn against his or her will while the elections are in progress? The official answer is that the candidate violated the electoral law. Opposition activists, however, tell you that in Belarus under Lukashenko, everything is possible.

October 16, 2004, Minsk, Belarus

•  •  •  •  •

A Sunday Afternoon on Election Day

 In the center of Minsk, there is a crowd, almost a throng, in the bedecked corridor of a school where polling station no. 560 is situated. A band is playing, beer and fruit are being sold at cheaper prices than in the shops, and there are queues outside the polling booths. Voters in some other wards are even better off: a number of breweries have arranged a beer tasting. Such offerings reaches its apex in School No. 113 where vodka is available for a few pennies and beer is totally free. . . .
 

Members of the electoral commission are seated at tables standing along the corridor. They distribute two ballots, one for the referendum and the other for the actual elections. If they were not being made quite so busy they would be delighted at the large participation in the elections. President Alexander Lukashenko can also be delighted. After all, the entire nation had heard his appeals and came to the polling stations in huge numbers. He would most probably be less delighted if he could hear what the voters were saying to each other. The voices of the people at polling stations are far from unanimous. There are those in favor and those against; sometimes Belarus citizens, who are as a rule placid and calm, even engage in sharp quarrels.

“To vote for Lukashenko? I would not even dream of that,” says Valentsin, who is about 30 years old. “I want nothing in common with this Soviet system. I want to travel and earn enough money.” Two older ladies tell him off: “What would you like, kid? To undermine the country and have the kind of chaos in the early 1990s? Just look at the way things are elsewhere, in Moldova or in Ukraine!” “I do look at the way things are elsewhere,” Valentin defends himself. “But not in Moldova. I look at Poland or Czechoslovakia. There is freedom there. Young people have more opportunities than simply to keep their mouth shut and stay in line!” He waves his hand and turns to the booth. The grandmothers look at each other and shake their head as if to say: young people today!

But take a closer look and one can see even more. Over there a member of the electoral commission tries to explain to an old woman how she should mark the referendum ballot (they show her the column “in favor”). Elsewhere the militiaman, an indispensable part of every functioning polling station, looks with interest at the electoral register. In reply to a question what he was doing in a polling station, he replies proudly: “I am looking after our security.” An elderly woman asks the commission chairman to sign a chit of paper. What is this? “A signature to confirm that I have been to vote. Tomorrow I have to hand it in at work. All those in our workshop have to do the same.” Some polling stations are bedecked with propaganda material of pro-government candidates, although the law bans this on Election Day. But what do you want? It is enough to switch on television and one realizes that the law in Belarus does not apply to those who are for Lukashenko.

October 18, 2004, Minsk, Belarus

•  •  •  •  •

A Museum of Communism

At around noon on Sunday, the day of elections, the Belarus Union of Youth reported that when it polled people leaving the election booths how they had voted, almost 85 percent were for a change in the Constitution. The Belarus Union of Youth is hardly a sociological research institution but rather the official youth organization supporting President Alexander Lukashenko and the present regime. Even if voters had in fact voted the way the youth organization claimed, there can be no illusion that a Belarus public opinion poll or even a foreign one would be able to ascertain the actual will of Belarus society.
 

Belarus looks like a museum of communism: people in the street appear tired and downtrodden, busses and trolleybuses in Minsk are overcrowded, service in shops and in restaurants is incredibly slow, and anyone in possession of a rubber stamp becomes an all-powerful master. But the streets are clean, there is a Presidential decree banning smoking in restaurants, and crime is not reported in either newspapers or television. But there is one difference from the past: shops are stocked more than plentiful. And Alexander Lukashenko watches over all this with a benevolent eye.

Undoubtedly the majority of the older generation, which is exposed to tireless propaganda on all sides, really wants stability and believes that Lukashenko is the only one capable of securing it. Stability means a monthly income, which under the current exchange rate is equivalent to from fifty to seventy dollars. With ridiculously cheap rents, the rest is enough to buy potatoes and vegetables, and meat once a week if all goes well. Is this not a wonderful life compared to the way things were during the war?

Students go to the polls and go along with the propaganda --- what else are they to do when an official is standing right behind their back --- and they keep their thoughts to themselves: complete their studies and leave the country. Those who are not threatened by expulsion from school vote against the referendum and give their votes to opposition candidates. And some simply refuse to go to vote. “After all,” they maintain, “the votes have long ago been dictated from above and election protocols prepared in advance have been signed on the very first day of the pre-elections.” Employees of state enterprises (virtually almost everybody) are also forced to go to vote. Under a secret decree issued by the Council of Ministers, “contracting” was to have been completed by October 6. This means enterprises have terminated permanent employment contracts of all the staff and replaced these with contracts renewable each year. These people have a better idea of what Belarus-type stability means and it is not likely that they would vote of their own free will for it.

October 18, 2004, Minsk, Belarus

•  •  •  •  •

Kuropaty

Belarus gives me sleepless nights: it keeps returning to me in my thoughts and it will most probably return to me for quite some time to come and not just because of witnessing the parliamentary elections and the referendum that turned out as they did but for other reasons as well. During my quite limited free time in Minsk, an elderly gentleman by the name of Vladimir took two fellow monitors from Poland and me, for an “excursion” outside the town: to Kuropaty. You go there along a very good new road that all drivers undoubtedly praise: the former republics of the Soviet Union mostly cannot boast of good roads.
 

What is Kuropaty? A fairly small wood, which divides the motorway into two parts, fir trees and elegant birches, a sand-covered road, holes in the road that had been filled in and dozens of ordinary wooden crosses. As is so often the case, the important thing was what could not be seen. Some two hundred thousand human beings are buried underneath this unruffled, almost idyllic surface. It is a cemetery, in fact a huge mass grave of those who were executed by members of the Soviet Special Forces from 1938 to 1941. Vladimir recounted to us how it happened: a group of several thousand prisoners were brought there, they were made to dig a deep hole, to kneel on its edge --- and then were shot. They were covered with earth by another group that had been brought there that then were made to kneel. . . . When the ground was carefully uncovered years later at Kuropaty, seven layers of mass graves were discovered. [. . .] There is no museum on the site of the mass graves, no official memorial.

In the 1990s, the broadening of the motorway almost reached another section of the forest; earth full of human remains was found. But at that time a number of people rose to protest: a handful of older citizens, like Vladimir who look after Kuropaty, together with a group of young boys and girls who vehemently protest in Belarus against every restriction of freedom. They put up tents on the site being threatened and were on constant patrol there despite the freezing temperature to save the area. They were successful. “We would like to set up some kind of institution,” Vladimir says. “To tell of this horrific history and provide documentation about it. We would like to put up a proper memorial --- two hundred thousand dead and one cannot even imagine this! But the authorities just give us the run-around. Lukashenko simply does not want this.”

In complete silence we walk through the icy wind and freezing autumn rain, and I sadly ponder over the way drivers and walkers who have no idea about what happened there, praise the handsome road.

October 21, 2004 Minsk, Belarus

•  •  •  •  •

What is to Happen to Lukashenko?

The international community must react to these rigged elections. There is no doubt that the official results of last Sunday’s Belarus elections and of the referendum in no way reflect the free will of Belarus citizens.

Let us just point out how the elections turned out: in the first round 107 of the 110 Belarus pro-government candidates seized all seats in parliament. Two wards will have a second round of elections where two pro-government candidates will face each other. Before the elections Alexander Lukashenko had praised one as well as the other and in doing so he made the chairman of the polling commission grapple with an impossible task: who to make win? In one single constituency, where by some miracle opposition and independent observers managed to “sneak” into the commission and to some extent pressure the result so that it reflected the genuine will of the electorate. The candidate of the opposition won slightly over 46 percent of the votes and as a result a second round should have been held there. But just to be on the safe side, the authorities annulled the elections in that constituency so that there will have to be fresh elections there --- and the powers that be will undeniably make sure that this time they turn out “correctly.”
 

If these concrete facts are not yet convincing that these elections were a well-prepared farce, let me provide yet another example. The Moscow correspondent Azgar Ishkildin, one of a group of observers from IDEE, stated at a press conference that at 6 p.m. on Sunday night, before the end of the elections, he had received a document with the result of the elections in one ward in a Minsk electoral district (No. 107) [see Article 2 and Appendix 1]. The vote count in this ward took a mere twenty minutes after which the results were announced. The figure that was announced differed from the correspondent’s by a mere ten votes. In Minsk everyone spoke of the fact that the official results of the elections had been recorded long before the event.

Punishment

The international community cannot leave such an obvious fraud unnoticed. But what should the reaction be? Polish Euro-MPs have already submitted some proposals. The list of persons who have no access to the European Union should be extended by those who have rigged elections, above all Lidia Yermushina, the Central Electoral Commission chairman. Lukashenko’s suspected private accounts in the West ought to be found and confiscated.

These are repressive measures, punishment for an election fraud committed against Belarus’s own people. There can be no doubt that President Lukashenko and his omnipresent propaganda will convince the Belarusan population that these repressive measures show that Europe is hostile and has a negative attitude towards their country. . . . [M]any people believe . . . that there is a calm atmosphere and stability in Belarus while the turbulent world all around is shaken by unemployment and military and terrorist violence. . . .

Opening the Door

Other proposals are aimed at overcoming the information barrier put up by Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime. The European Union should finance an independent television and radio service broadcast from outside Belarusan territory. An extensive program of grants, financed by the European Union and individual member states, should be set up. Visa fees should be reduced or totally abolished to allow Belarus citizens to travel to European countries. . . . [T]his is perhaps the most important issue. Belarus citizens are a peaceful nation and rarely complain. A peasant in a village will tell you that he is very well: he does not earn very much in the kolkhoz but he has a cow, two pigs and can take as much hay as he needs. He can buy bread and sausages; he has his own milk. So there is nothing to complain about. [. . . ]He claims that people in Poland are much worse off; after all, there is unemployment there. If you ask whether he voted yes for a change in the Constitution, he will say that this is natural. If you ask him why, he will stop to think and then say that if there were no President the kolkhoz farms could collapse. What is more, NATO troops are stationed outside Belarus borders and Belarus citizens don’t want a war. Anyone who has seen Belarus television --- and there is no alternative to its programs since people cannot afford newspapers, let alone travel --- cannot be surprised by such ignorance.

October 22, 2004, Minsk, Belarus
 

Observer Articles: Chronicle of an Election Fraud
(2)

Report from a Belarus electoral district
By Azgar Iskilgin

In all Minsk electoral constituencies a poster is    on display: a dark blue background, and in front  a hand holding a glass ball. Some posters have    just one hand underneath the ball: others have    another hand on top of it. Inside the ball are the  contours of the country’s borders enclosing the   national colours of Belarus. Above and below are  the words Stability, Referendum, and Pro Belarus. This is 16 October: the last day of campaigning before the referendum and elections.  “And what actually does this creation  mean?” – I ask a young member of the militia. He smiles and answers, “No idea”.

I pose the very same question to a representative of one of the electoral commissions. The representative, a school director, smiles: “You understand that it is how a mother gently holds a child. One hand above, and one hand below. For us this image represents such an association. With what do you associate the image?” “To me it seems that inside a sphere one would quickly choke”. Someone laughs behind me. It is the militiaman. Two female members of the electoral commission also cannot withhold their laughter. The representative of the commission throws a momentary glance at the two women, and the laughter dies. The representative then turns to me. “But who told you it was a closed sphere? Its front is complete, but the back is open. It is quite possible to breathe!” Silence from the commission members.

That evening, friends nonetheless explained the meaning of the poster and its sphere. “All these years I carry, carefully and with trembling hands, this light crystal object, whose name is Belarus. While carrying it I am afraid of dropping it, for it is very light and fragile. Agree that we would not want this purity and beauty, created by us, to fall into the hands of a casual and irresponsible politician”. Thus explained Alexander Lukashenko why it was necessary for the country to change its constitution so he could be selected to run for the presidency ad infinitum.

On 14 October, the leaders of the opposition 5-Plus coalition, Anatoly Lebedko, Sergei Kalyakin and Anatoly Fyederov, announced that on 9 October all electoral commissions had been informed “from above” about the results for each constituency. They said that they had been told about this by dozens of members of the electoral commissions. However they refused to give copies of these instructions. The authorities reacted to these accusations on TV; they said that the statements from Lebedko and Kalyakin sufficed to instigate legal proceedings against them.

At the moment opposition candidates or those who registered dissatisfaction with alterations to the constitution are being excluded from participating in the elections on the most minor of technicalities. Accusations were often evidently unsubstantiated, but that is a separate matter.

At present Belarus voting procedures differ from those in Russia. The ballot boxes were sealed and remained for one night under the protection of the militia. Those observers who tried to remain with the ballot boxes after 7 p.m. with members of the electoral commission were as a rule required to leave under escort of the militia. Other members of the commission remained some 40 minutes with the ballot boxes alone. It was impossible to see what they did there, but it is easy to guess. Observer Andrei Zavadsky from station 516, district 107, told me he had approached the ballot box to examine the seal, and then had his hands grabbed and was escorted from the room. “I am responsible for the safety of the site” – so the explanation from the chairwoman of the commission, Elena Vasilyevna.

In some polling stations independent observers were moved so they only could only see voters entering the station, but not the commission nor the ballot boxes. On 17 October, 70-year-old Yevgeniya Savko was removed from station 496 for having stood up from her chair and taken up a position from where she could view the commission and the ballot box. I viewed this place, and the distance from the observer to the ballot box was not less than 12 metres, yet this seemed to be close enough for her to be taken away by interior ministry officers. I attempted to have this information confirmed or simply refuted by the officer on duty at the station where Savko was taken. The duty officer explained during 40 minutes that the woman was not there, and never had been. I walked out on to the street while my friends called the Ministry of the Interior in Minsk. The duty officer, surname Zhuk, replied that Savko was indeed being held in the station where I had just been. Returning there, I was told Zhuk was lying. Finally, Zhuk named the investigator assigned to Savko, a certain Linevich. The duty officer showed surprise and said there was no such person there. I asked him to call the main MoI office. He invited me to leave saying he would do this. I walked out again onto the street and looked back at the window. Nobody was calling anyone. The officer was looking out of the window and, seeing me looking at him, lowered his gaze. I waited five minutes, entered the station again, and asked the duty officer if he had called the central office. At that moment an officer, grade lieutenant-colonel, came down the stairs and asked what I wanted. I replied, and was then told that Zhuk was lying. I answered that in that case I would go to the central office. On leaving the lieutenant-colonel told me there “had been a woman, but she has already been released”. At the same time, Zhuk told my friends the same story. In the evening we discovered both had been lying: Savko’s son said she had been at the station the whole time.

Why did they fear the opposition observers so much? This came out later, at 6 p.m. I was asked to come to the office of the Belarus National Front. There I was given a copy of the election results for polling station 495, district 107, Minsk. An approximate translation follows:

Election results for polling station 495 (number written by hand, together with illegible surname and the numbers 20.00).
I. On the referendum:

    a) Number of voters on list – 1831
    b) Number of voters who cast their ballot – 1428
    c) Number of voters who voted “for” - 1096
    d) Number of voters who voted “against” - 224

II. On election to the House of Representatives:
    a) Number of voters who voted for:
        Vyachorka – 146
        Kruk – 776
        Doronin – 82

    b) Number of voters who voted against all – 407
    c) Number of void papers – X
    d) Number of spoiled papers – X

I xeroxed this document and was at the polling station at 7 p.m. together with Alexander Zhuchkov, an authorised representative of the BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka. The committee representative was surprised at our appearance, but allowed us to stay. Voting was in full swing. At 20.00 I was requested to sit in an area designated for observers. This area (two rows of chairs) was separated from the rest of the hall by tape. Members of the commission emptied the ballot boxes onto the table and began to sort them. Close to half an hour later the chairman of the committee began announcing the results. There were 1,831 voters on the list. In the vote, 1,428 took part. 1,096 voted in favour of the referendum. No information on those who voted against. 157 votes for Vechorka. For Kruk 776. For Doronin 151. I became nervous: the list I had was wrong somewhere. After some time the chairperson said “observers: correct the figures for Doronin. 82 votes for Doronin”.

The figure for votes against all candidates was not given. We waited until the official list of voting results was placed on the table for observers, and then placed a copy of our document on the table. The observers from the official “public organisations” froze! Alexander Zhuchkov loudly informed the members of the commission about the affair. One of the observers (a retired general) came out of shock and started to say that we had “just forged all this on a computer”. The others were silent: they saw we evidently had no computer all this time. Two women from the opposition were visibly amused. They created a protocol about this affair, which I also signed, and this was sent to the public prosecutor.

Returning from the polling station, I found out that Sergei Kalyakin’s car was rammed by another vehicle. The car was crushed, but Kalyakin was not injured. “I am fine, and if anything happens to me, then only as a result of murder”, the leader said an hour later.

Azgar Ishkildin, Minsk-Moscow
Translated by Michael Garood

•  •  •  •  •

Observer Articles: Chronicle of an Election Fraud
(3)

Infectious Dictatorship
The Belarus Elections and Referendum
by Shahla Ismailova

Electoral Law violations, a suppressed media, impoverished citizens, opposition under siege, state monopoly over television, and total propaganda for the president — it is a very familiar view indeed, but this time it is not Azerbaijan we are talking about, but Belarus.

The Republic of Belarus, which counts a population of 10 million people, is a victim of the “pro-Lukashenka” system. Alexander Lukashenka, who used to head up a collective farm (kolkhoz), was elected to the post of president in 1994. It could be said he was the beneficiary of being “in the right place at the right time.” The people, tired of the harsh and destructive blows of post-soviet “perestroika,” turned toward a fresh figure — someone with new words, openness, criticism, promises.

It was a good beginning and right on time. But after coming to power, Lukashenka, like so many others, changed his image from “democrat” to absolute power-seeker. Monopolizing public television and press and even political parties is not new, of course. The dirty politics included more: the physical destruction of potential political opponents, as in the “mysterious disappearance” of Karpenko, Zakharenko, Gonchar, Krasovskiy, Zavadskiy, among others. Any criticism, whether individual or institutional, comes under intense pressure. Thus, since the start of the election campaign, 11 independent newspapers have been closed. Public organizations work under great pressure and registered NGOs lose registration if they are not pro-governmental.

In addition to this high public tension, there is economic failure. The monthly inflation rate is counted at 12.5 percent, or an annual rate of 150 percent. Such a rapid rise in prices is overcompensated by printing new banknotes instead of implementing urgent economic reforms. While the older generation, the main constituency still supporting Lukashenka, regularly get their pensions and while doing so thank God and Lukashenka for this stabile minimum, the younger generation migrates en masse to foreign countries for learning and jobs.

This sad reality was revealed to the 18-member observer mission to Belarus organized by the Institute of Democracy of Eastern Europe (IDEE) from October 9 to 21. The group, consisting mainly of journalists, came from Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Poland, and Russia. Its purpose was to observe the electoral process for the Parliamentary Elections and the Referendum in Belarus.

The pre-election situation was familiar in regard to the absolute unequal conditions for [opposition] candidates during all stages of election campaign. There was only a percentage of candidates from the opposition that was registered; there was an imperfect election code; conflict of interest of election commission members; systematic destruction of propaganda materials of opposition candidates; there was forced participation of students and vulnerable inhabitants of hostels in pre-election day voting, a phenomenon that covered 6 days before the elections and was clearly the basic tool for election fraud; there was an absence of private cabins for voting at some polling stations and a lack of protection of the secret ballot; voters’ lists were incomplete and without transparency; portraits of Lukashenka were inside the polling stations. This is only a partial list of all the irregularities we have observed.

The holding of two important ballots simultaneously — the Referendum and the Parliamentarian Elections — automatically set the conditions for electoral law violations. The Referendum, organized to change the two term limit provided for president in Article 81.1 of the State Constitution, was nothing more than a cheap farce. Being in power already for 10 years, Lukashenka still wants to keep the presidency after 2006, when his current term expires. The popular joke among Belarus youth is that soon they will see Lukashenka giving a speech on TV: “Dear compatriots! I am tired of elections. The day of coronation will be announced soon.” This joke, however, is the effective truth of what we have seen.

During our monitoring, there was an absolute unequal distribution of propaganda materials, on top of a five-minutes limit on TV for every candidate (the daily exposure was at 6:00 p.m., when working people are still on their way back to home). At the same time, there was a permanent agitation campaign for Lukashenka on the referendum — “say YES to the third term.” Voters were exposed only to the YES message . . . and to the slogan “let us say FOR Belarus,” meaning of course that a vote against is a vote against Belarus. Lukashenka, having unlimited access to television, is permanently propagandizing in favor of “stability,” which only his rule provides, and pouring out dirt on the West, which initiates world conflicts.

As to our election monitoring, I can say that our group of two people, working in Novopolotsk, witnessed the actual victory — I have the copies of protocols — of the candidate from the opposition Belarus Popular Front (BNF) party, D.Soloviev. But a few hours after the polls closed, the pro-governmental candidate M. Sosonko, who has already been a member of parliament for 3 terms, was declared the “winner” for the fourth time. It is not the only case and it is significant that these candidates from the opposition could gain so many votes despite the unequal conditions for the election campaign. The next day the chief of Central Election Commission declared the list of “elected” candidates, the majority of whom were repeat parliamentary members. The list fully corresponded to the pre-election “advice” of Lukashenka to have 30 percent women deputies and the same amount of ex-parliamentarians. As a matter of fact not a single candidate from the radical opposition bloc “Five Plus One” won. On the referendum, Lukashenka “obtained” 77 percent.

Thus, it is another sad story of total election fraud. Certainly, it is not the end of the story yet. There are certain sanctions from the European Union, continued protests of local and international activists, human rights reports, etc. I want to believe that this unequal struggle will end up with the victory of democracy. I saw that grievous hope in the eyes of 15 young people, local observers of the opposition candidate in the districts where we were monitoring. Ales, Kristina, Dima, I don’t remember the names of all of them, were all frozen on the night of the election, having gone without rest and food for many hours. But they managed to bring up those real protocols, proving the victory of their leader. I remember their hope, too, when I was young and had no experience in similar lies before. We, the group from Azerbaijan, who experienced even a worse fraud and violence last year, expected the repetition of the history and we were right.

But I have a question: Why is this sad history repeated so frequently? Why are we obliged to accept the self-will of these dictators, who have all the reins of government in their hands and manipulate the people’s lives? The reason is that, seeing that their “dictator colleagues” get away with these dirty tricks over a period of time, they are more confident in absolute victory for ever. And this is how the list of schizophrenic presidents gets larger.

For my Belarusan friends, then, what can we do? First of all, do not ignore these facts. Even if you live in a democratic country, please keep in mind that any of us can be in a similar situation and all of us deserve living, not surviving. Second, accept this problem as a global one and contribute to the solution as much as you can. HOW? If you disseminate similar reports, information bulletins and press-releases as widely as you can — it would already be a very significant support.

In the end, the PEN has always been the only unchangeable arm against the dictators. Good luck!

•  •  •  •  •






Appendix III
Election Documents

DOCUMENT 1:
Statement of Observer Representatives
October 14, 2004

We, Sheilo, Denis Pavlovich and Mutsevich, D.D, both designated representatives of the [opposition] candidate Mr. Chigir, witnessed the following during a political agitation campaign:

A person who lives in the city of Bobruysk, 27e Baharov St., apt. 56 told us that he is a member of the district electoral committee #65. He stated that on October 13, 2004, he saw a [completed] protocol indicating the results of the elections. It was dated October 17,2004 and stated that [pro-Lukashenko candidate] Mr. Kuchvilskii U. A. had 63% of votes and Mr. Chigir A. received 14% of votes.

Signed: Sheilo Denis Pavlovich and Mutsevich D.D

Document 2
Copy of Protocol
Referendum and Elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Council of the Republic of Belarus.

Eastern Election District # 107: Polling Station #495.

The list of voters contains 1,l831 people. The number of people who voted is 1,428.

The Results of referendum: “Yes” – 1096
The Results of elections:
Vecherko V.G  157 votes
Doronin E.V.   82 votes
Kruk V.V  776 votes

I received a copy of this protocol on October 17, 2004 at 8:50 p.m. in the presence of the entire election committee # 495 (district 107), observers, representative of press, and a police officer. [The fax contains several signatures of the people present]

[The votes were nearly identical to a filled-out protocol provided to Mr. Ishkilgin several days earlier during pre-electoral voting.]

Submitted by Azgar Ishkilgin

Links and Resources

Belarusian Review: http://www.belreview.cz/

International League for Human Rights: Belarus Project: www@ilhr.org
(for general election reporting go to Belarus Project and Latest News for Weekly Bulletins).

International Republican Institute: Belarus Program: http://www.iri.org/countries.asp?id=9478345392

National Democratic Institute/Partnership: http://www.ndi.org
(for statement of the NDI-sponsored Partnership group, see http://www.ndi.org/ndi/library/1758_bl_partnership_101804.txt)

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: http://www.osce.org/odihr
http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/field_activities/?election=2004belarus (see Belarus mission web page for the OSCE/ODIHR final report on the Belarus Elections and General Referendum)

Pontis Foundation: http://www.pontisfoundation.sk, http://www.pontisfoundation.sk/en/news (click icons for Pre-Election reports)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Belarus and Ukraine Report: http://www.rferl.org/pbureport/ (English)

Viasna Human Rights Center
http://www.spring96.org/English/ (for Viasna’s Pre-Election report go to Archives: News: August 24, 2004)


For More Information, Contact:
Eric Chenoweth and Irena Lasota, Co-Directors
Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE)
1718 M Street, NW, No. 147, Washington, DC 20036
Tel.: 202-466-7105    Fax: 202-387-6466    Email: idee@idee.org
Web: www.idee.org