The amendments to the Belarusian election code provide a mixed response to the recommendations made by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, the two institutions concluded in a joint legal opinion adopted today.
The amendments introduced in January represent a step towards removing some flaws in the country's election legislation, but they are unlikely to resolve the underlying concern that the legislative framework for elections in Belarus continues to fall short of providing a basis for genuinely democratic elections, the document says.
"The amendments include a number of significant improvements which respond to some of the recommendations we made in previous election observation reports and during the recent process of open and constructive consultations with the Belarusian authorities," said Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, Director of ODIHR.
But several areas need further elaboration or are not yet addressed at all, he added: "For example, the potential positive impact of some of the amendments risks being undermined by flaws in the counting and tabulation process which remained unchanged."
Thomas Markert, the Secretary of the Venice Commission, stressed that no legislation, however good it may be, can alone guarantee elections in line with international standards: "The quality of future elections in Belarus will depend not only on the quality of the legislation. Equally important is its implementation in good faith."
The legal opinion identifies a number of new provisions that could lead to improvements in electoral practice. These include the easing of restrictions on candidate registration and campaigning, new safeguards for early voting and the possibility of appealing certain Central Election Commission decisions to the Supreme Court.
The opinion raises concerns related to appointment procedures for election commission members, including the absence of selection criteria. It also notes the lack of safeguards ensuring the integrity and transparency of the vote count and results tabulation. For example, there have been no amendments to ensure that precinct commission members count the ballots in a transparent manner and that observers are given direct and effective opportunities to monitor the voting, counting and tabulation process. In addition, there are no provisions mandating the election commissions at various levels to publish detailed preliminary and final results of the vote, by polling stations, without undue delay.
ODIHR and the Venice Commission stand ready to assist the authorities of Belarus with the continuation of the electoral reform process. ODIHR is looking forward to monitoring the impact of the amendments during the upcoming presidential elections.