Electoral Code Amendments are Insufficient for Elections to be Free and Fair
The Electoral Code amendments recently passed by the House of Representatives are insufficient for Belarus’ elections to be free and fair, Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party who co-chairs the United Democratic Forces, told BelaPAN following a meeting of the leadership of the opposition coalition on Monday.
The coalition will soon issue a statement in which it will express this opinion, Mr. Lyabedzka said, noting that the UDF would also submit its proposals for changing the Electoral Code to the Presidential Administration and the Council of the Republic (upper parliamentary house). "These institutions have the last opportunity to mend the situation by returning the bill for revision," he said.
The House of Representatives approved the second, final reading of the amendments on December 11. The legislation, which is said to take into account "90 percent" of the OSCE’s recommendations for electoral reform, now has to be approved by the Council of the Republic and signed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka to come into force.
Under the bill, representatives of political parties and non-governmental organizations are to account for at least one-third of the members of precinct and district election commissions. Representatives of local executive committees would be barred from being members of precinct election commissions, while the share of civil servants in the membership of a commission would be limited to one-third.
Organizations that seek representation on precinct and district election commissions would be allowed to send their representatives to meetings held by local authorities to discuss the formation of the commissions. They also would have the right to appeal decisions resulting from such meetings to court.
The candidate nomination and registration procedures would be simplified and political parties would be allowed to nominate candidates in electoral districts where they have no registered chapters.
Nomination groups would no longer be required to have ballot-access signatures verified by local executive committees. In addition, the draft legislation would reduce the number of grounds for declaring ballot-access signatures invalid.
Despite being limited to designated venues, candidates would not be required to obtain authorities’ permission for holding campaign events. Joint campaigning also would be allowed.
Precinct election commissions would be required to issue a report on the number of voters casting their ballots after each day of early voting.
The amendments would abolish the voter turnout requirement for local elections.
Candidates would be allowed to set up funds to finance their campaigns during presidential and parliamentary elections. The amount of such funds would be limited to 1000 times the Base Rate for parliamentary candidates and 3,000 times the Base Rate for presidential candidates.
In an interview with BelaPAN earlier this month, Jens Eschenbaecher, spokesman for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said that the agency had not received the amendments for review although an agreement to this effect was reached in February.
The spokesman stressed that ODIHR "could still review the amendments provided that sufficient time is given to prepare the comments and in turn for the comments to be meaningfully considered by Parliament."
"In general, we encourage a broad and inclusive dialogue in Belarus on electoral reforms involving a wide array of election stakeholders in order to build a large agreement over the necessary reform and to build confidence," Mr. Eschenbaecher said.