Reverse Side of "Democratic" Election
Early voting on election of deputies to local councils began in Belarus today. According to the CEC secretary Nikolai Lozovik, this year control over the early voting will be stricter because of the changes in the electoral law. However, observations of candidates from the opposition show that the liberalisation of the election was held only on paper.
While in Minsk the authorities are still trying to save face in front of representatives of international institutions, the situation in the regions is really sad.
The candidate of the Belarusian Party of the Left "Fair World" to the district council of Zhlobin Valery Rybchanka is travelling around the district. He managed to start a full-fledged campaign only yesterday.
"We sent campaign materials to the press before Radunitsa (13 April), and they promised to publish them by the end of last week. However, we received the materials only yesterday", said the candidate. "The printing office pleaded workload of machines, because supposedly additional orders were brought from the neighbouring Rahachou district."
The officials tried to censor the speech of the candidate on the local radio.
"When I spoke, I was stopped and not allowed to speak on: ‘Do not speak badly of the authorities’. I said that it was a question of the prosecutor's office, and then they allowed the complete speech".
According to Valery Rybchanka, it is also virtually impossible to organise meetings with voters.
"On weekends, people go to the countryside. There are no enterprises in my district, only a few shops. We have just received the materials, so we begin to actively work; we stand near apartment blocks, hand out the materials, and campaign."
The candidate to Horadnia Regional Council, member of the Political Council of the United Civil Party Yuri Istomin, on the contrary, managed to distribute all his printed materials among voters. So, the minimum program has been implemented, the politician believes. Every resident of the district received the candidate’s programme, leaflet, and invitation to the election.
However, the candidate could not hold planned pickets in Horadnia: the city council did not allow them.
"Not all districts of Hrodna have the place reserved by the executive committee for meetings with voters. The legislation in this sphere, which has supposedly changed, actually worsens conditions for campaigning and limits the right of people to receive information and of candidates to spread it", said Yuri Istomin.
According to the candidate, the current election campaign is no different from the previous ones, because "people of the same kind are running".
"They are heads of clinics, school principals, and directors of factories that do not lead an equal struggle with other candidates. They still visit schools and working places, and other candidates are not informed about such meetings. We have revealed the fact that the head of the clinic, which runs in my district, is campaigning during working hours. Local doctors simply agitate people who come to them for this candidate", said Yuri Istomin to the correspondent of www.udf.by.
The most important stage of the election, according to the candidate, will be observation of the voting process and counting of votes. But it is this stage that remains outside of the democratic opposition’s control. Thus, in Yuri’s district, only one representative of the UCP managed to become a member of the divisional election commission.
"Of course, we will cover the polling stations with observers, but this will not guarantee that results will correspond to the facts."
There are difficulties in Hrodna with spreading printed materials, too. Nothing has changed in this regard, although there are changes in the electoral code, says the candidate. According to him, the local authorities artificially limit the number of places where one can post printed materials.
"In Minsk there are special billboards near bus stops, but we do not have anything of the kind. In my district there are only two pillars for posters, although 13,000 people live there", said Yuri Istomin.
The politician sums up the election in Horadnia. According to his projection, the voter turnout will be "very low, 35 – 40% at best", because people are not interested in these elections.
"In Hrodna newspapers there is practically no information about the elections, posters do not reveal the positions of candidates, and local councils as an organ of power are discredited. People do not know the deputies they voted for in previous elections. They believe that local councils do not take any decisions, do not play any role in changing people's lives. That is why they are not interested in the elections", sums up Yuri Istomin.
Candidates of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) in Brest conduct their campaign under a unified brand "Our City", which has already become recognisable among residents of the city.
"We stake mainly on meeting people", said the candidate Ihar Maslousky. "On Sunday we held election pickets in the most acceptable of the permitted places. Unfortunately few people came even to this place. But we have used this opportunity during two days. We handed out a lot of materials – posters, leaflets, flyers, and so on."
It was not easy to put election posters on shop windows. According to Ihar Maslousky, "a lot of time is spent on getting permission of managers, on various bureaucratic delays." However, his rival got away with only a warning from the electoral commission when Maslousky’s team found out that his posters were without the imprint. The commission considered the absence of the imprint as an error of the printing office. And "the candidate had to remove posters and put the imprint on them", said the politician.
The BSDP candidates evaluate the results of the pre-election campaign positively.
"The brand "Our City" and the name of the party are recognisable, many know our team and candidates", says Ihar Maslousky.
The former political soldier Franak Viachorka continues to campaign in Mazyr. The call of the correspondent of www.udf.by found him putting up posters. As Franak said, he had already been holding an "active, aggressive campaign" for three weeks. During this time he managed to hold two big rallies, one of them combined with a concert.
"There are three main points in my programme. First, to return to Mazyr the status of a contaminated zone, along with all the perks: free meals in schools and kindergartens, no fares for children, free vacations for workers and the military and so on. Secondly, to fix roads. The district where I run is considered the worst, the least prestigious in the town. The roads there have not been repaired for 20 years. My goal is to force officials to pay attention to the problem. The third point is a transparent municipal budget. Big money of oil refineries whirls in the town. This is millions and millions of dollars. Ice palaces, ski resorts, and water parks are built here, which are very expensive for ordinary people; only officials themselves and a few rich people go there. I want money for ice palaces to be allocated for clinics, hospitals, schools and infrastructure development of my district", said the young politician.
Franak Viachorka is sure that he is "definitely supported" by the absolute majority of voters. If the elections were free, he "would not doubt his victory". But, according to the candidate, there is no election in Belarus – "there is a farce, a show for the West". It is therefore very important to organise the maximum control over the counting of votes.
According to the former political soldier, only the first week of campaigning was quiet. Then somebody began to tear down all his campaigning materials leaving, however, printed materials of his pro-regime rival. He had to hold a meeting with voters on the street, because local authorities refused to provide any room for this.
"Directors of enterprises and institutions also ask their employees to vote early and vote against me. The military unit where I served is located on the territory of my district. There an order was given for everybody to vote early. This is the evidence of planned rigging of the elections", said Viachorka. "Every day I face obstacles and pressure, but it helps me. I think that people respect me even more for this."
The elections to local councils of deputies will be held on April 25. But the authorities have already revealed the true essence of the liberalisation of the electoral law.