ODIHR publishes final report on Belarus` presidential election
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on February 22 published its final report on Belarus` December 14-19 presidential election, reiterating that the government has a considerable way to go to meet its OSCE commitments for democratic elections.
There was a lack of independence and impartiality of the election administration, an uneven playing field and a restrictive media environment, as well as a lack of transparency at key stages of the electoral process, the ODIHR concluded in its final report.
"Election night was marred by the detention of most presidential candidates and hundreds of citizens, among them journalists, human rights activists and other civil society representatives," the ODIHR says, noting that dozens of them, including former presidential candidates, continue to be detained.
"Overall, these circumstances undermined confidence in the election," the Office stresses.
It says that despite significant improvements introduced to the Electoral Code a year earlier, the country’s legal framework "still does not fully comply with OSCE commitments and other international standards, and continues to contain serious shortcomings."
Local election commissions were dominated by members supportive of the incumbent president, which calls into question their impartiality, the ODIHR notes.
It says that the technical aspects of the electoral process were generally well administered, but important parts of electoral regulations, especially regarding counting procedures remained ambiguous.
"The quality and accuracy of the voter lists remains serious concern since a consolidated, centralized and computerized register does not exist," the report reads. "Voter lists are not cross-checked at the regional or national level nor do other safeguards exist to avoid the possibility of multiple registrations and, subsequently, the risk of multiple voting."
The ODIHR says that the registration of candidates was inclusive, but "the process of signature verification, however, lacked transparency since candidates’ representatives and other domestic observers were not able to monitor it."
"Overall, the campaign environment improved compared to recent elections," the Office notes. "Candidates were generally able to communicate with the electorate in an unhindered manner. The campaign was, however, characterized by a lack of a level playing field between the incumbent and the other nine candidates, and was marked by instances of pressure, harassment and misuse of administrative resources to promote the incumbent."
The report notes "a general lack of independent and objective reporting in the print and electronic media." "A scarcity of alternative sources of information significantly reduced the possibility for voters to make an informed choice,” it reads. “In state-funded print media, information about the incumbent and his campaign usually appeared on the front page. Campaign material by opposition candidates was only printed inside and was censored. All major TV stations with nationwide coverage demonstrated a clear bias in favor of the incumbent."
Besides, the ODIHR says, national regulations do not provide for challenging election results to court and appealing all decisions by the central election commission to the Supreme Court.
"While the overall voting process was assessed as good, the process deteriorated significantly during the vote count, undermining the steps taken previously to improve the election process," the ODIHR stresses. "Observers assessed the vote count as bad and very bad in almost half of all observed polling stations. Clear instances of ballot stuffing and tampering with the results were noted by international observers."
Access of observers was limited and tabulation of results was assessed as bad or very bad in many polling stations, the ODIHR adds.