Updated at 14:29,29-07-2020

Authorities use election rules to push Belarusians to boycott

PAVEL SVIARDLOU, Euroradio

Authorities use election rules to push Belarusians to boycott
Protests in Minsk / Euroradio​
Every time when elections are held in Belarus, I try to come to the polling station 10 minutes before closing. And almost always it's the same picture: I'm the first of my ten neighbors, who sign for receiving a ballot.

The rest just don't show up.

Actually, boycotting the election is not profitable for the authorities. The more obvious the difference between "real" and "properly counted" turnout is, the worse. But the conditions that the authorities have put the voters in push them to staying at home on election day. Let me explain how.

They say that if you don't care about politics, it starts 'taking care' of you. It works everywhere except Belarus. For the last 20 years we have had an unspoken social contract: people were given poor but stable living standards in exchange for "not going where you're not asked to". But this year - in May -- there was hope that everything would be different. Babaryka, Tsapkala and Tsikhanousky were able to spark the interest of thousands of "apolitical" people in politics. These six weeks -- from May 7, when Syarhei Tsikhanouski announced his participation in elections, to June 18th, when Viktar Babaryka was detained -- were, without exaggeration, some of the most interesting in Belarusian politics over the past 26 years.

It turned out that the authorities were ready for an explosion of political activity. One by one they drove into the ground all the initiatives of the awakened citizens. It was done in a catastrophically clumsy manner. But it is impossible to control or appeal against what was going on. Officials have answers to everything: the laws are like this, we do not have to explain anything to you.

Here's an example: the case of "Honest People"


Almost three thousand citizens of Belarus are nominated for district election commissions. They want to count the votes themselves in order to reduce the probability of fraud. However, the authorities did not even bother to create the appearance that someone is interested in this civic activity. The procedure of discussing candidates and voting for them is absolutely formal: they read out the information about a person and raise hands in favor.

As a result, almost all "Honest People" were rejected. And the election commissions recruited the same "verified" people as a year and two years ago. Because they can.

What about rejected signatures?


Thousands of voters were asked to check whether their signatures for the nomination of alternative presidential candidates were taken into account. People want to know: what if among the hundreds of thousands of signatures rejected by "graphologists" from the State Committee of Forensic Examinations by mistake there were their signatures that were properly provided?

But it was not to be. Officials started giving the same type of answers: "The electoral legislation does not provide for the procedure of re-examination of a voter's signature at his/her request as well as provision of copies of materials on verification of signatures and individual or group appeal by voters against the results of inspections in court".



In plain English in means "we do what we want and have the right not to explain anything to you. We do not owe you anything at all".

In fact, the situation with street protests is the same


The authorities keep repeating that no one in Belarus prohibits protest. But one should protest, observing the laws. But the laws adopted by the authorities put the protest in the conditions where it loses all meaning.

For example, there are only six places in Minsk, where mass events can be held on a notification principle. All of them are far from the city center. The likelihood that you'll get a rally agreed somewhere in the center is close to zero.

You want your protest to be noticed and for that you go to the central avenues? Well, don't be surprised if the riot police notice it, too. Why? The law is broken! The Interior Minister Yury Karayeu calls the actions of his subordinates "gentle pushing". In fact, it's a dispersal with severe detentions. And then there are courts, fines and days of administrative arrest.

In court, the detainees can't prove anything, even if the moment they are shoved into the paddy wagon is on video. For the Belarusian judge, their words a priori have less weight than the testimony of police officers. The request to use the video for proof can be simply refused. And all this is done by law.

The next stage where the authorities will play with the people by their own rules is election observation.
Observers are in fact the last hope of alternative candidates to get at least some kind of control over the election process. But to observe, as well as to protest, one should follow the rules. Otherwise you can say goodbye to your accreditation. And the rules, frankly speaking, are not simple.

If one of the observers is against other observers taking photos and videos at the polling station, they may be banned from doing so.

If an observer detects an inflated turnout, they "create a tense atmosphere".

A Brest observer Yury Vashchanchuk recorded a girl with a heap of ballots in her hands at the parliamentary elections. The girl ran away from the polling station on the advice of the commission chair. It would seem that the violation was recorded! But it all ended up with the guy being stripped of his observer's accreditation, and a couple of days later Alyaksandr Lukashenka publicly called him an asshole.



Last year Hanna Talchykova was pushed out of a polling station because she reminded the members of the polling station commission of criminal responsibility for election fraud. Looks like you can't do that either!



And there was a precedent: the chair of the commission called the police and asked to take the observer away, saying that he was drunk. The medical test showed that the guy was sober. But the goal was achieved: the polling station was left without observation.

"Observation rules" turn the observers at the stations into statisticians. Do you hope the state will behave differently this year? Let me ask you something: when did the state behaved differently before?

The wheel of sansara


So, the laws in Belarus are as inconvenient as possible for active participation of citizens in the electoral process. They are just tuned for everything to go according to the laws. And laws are not suitable for protests either. And in some places they do not leave an opportunity to protest against the decisions of the authorities.

It's just not interesting to participate in elections according to such rules. Really, what's the point? On the night of August 10th, the CEC will just announce some numbers. No one will explain anything again. And it is impossible to catch anyone red-handed if you act according to the rules established by the authorities.

The sansara wheel is making another turn. The society that tried to get out of it is returning to its sad election daze.

The personal views of the author may not represent the official view of the euroradio editorial board.