The 11 September parliamentary elections were efficiently organized, but, despite some first steps by the authorities, a number of long-standing systemic shortcomings remain, the final OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission report says. The document was published on Wednesday, 9 December.
The legal framework restricts political rights and fundamental freedoms and was interpreted in an overly restrictive manner, the authors of the report underline.
There was an overall increase in the number of candidates, including from the opposition, but the campaign lacked visibility. Media coverage of the campaign did not enable voters to make an informed choice, they state.
On the good side, OSCE experts note “a welcoming approach towards international observers” and a more permissive allocation of public venues. However, the composition of election commissions was not pluralistic, which undermined confidence in their independence. Voting, counting and tabulation lack procedural safeguards and were marred by a significant number of irregularities and a lack of transparency.
OSCE report points out to strict media regulations in the country. “During the campaign, news programmes on state-owned media focused largely on the activities of the President and other state officials as well as political statements of the CEC Chairperson. Meanwhile, the coverage of candidates’ campaign activities was virtually absent and largely limited to short pre-recorded speeches. Overall, media coverage of the campaign narrowed the opportunity for voters to effectively receive candidate information”, the experts believe.
In total, 827 international and 32,105 citizen observers were accredited for the parliamentary elections 2016 in Belarus.
The recommendations section contains 32 points “with a view to enhance the conduct of elections in Belarus and to support efforts to bring them fully in line with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections”.
Priority recommendations include the revision of the legal framework to address previous OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations, including on the composition of election commissions, candidacy rights, observers’ rights, voting, counting and tabulation.
“Authorities should ensure the right of individuals and groups to establish, without undue restrictions, their own political parties or political organizations, and provide them with the necessary legal guarantees to compete with each other on an equal basis”, the report states.
It adds that Belarusian authorities should work to enhance transparency and accountability of elections by publishing results disaggregated by polling station and separately for each candidate, including votes cast against all candidates and the number of valid, invalid and spoiled ballots.
Observers should be provided with unrestricted access to all aspects of the electoral process, and should be able “to observe the entire working process of election commissions, including verification of signatures and other documents for candidate registration, and inspect voter lists and receive certified copies of election commission protocols”.
Campaigning should take place without abuse of official position, pressured involvement of employees, or support from state-owned enterprises or state-subsidized associations. All candidates should be free to craft their campaign messages to the electorate within the limits of the law, OSCE emphasizes.
What regards the media coverage of elections, accreditation of journalists should be reconsidered in view of improving their working conditions rather than functioning as a work permit. Freelance and online journalists should enjoy the same status of other journalists without discrimination.
State-owned media are recommended to provide impartial and balanced coverage in their news and political programmes to all contestants and should provide voters with sufficient information to make an informed choice.
Finally, the report says, authorities should consider more robust security measures such as numbered ballot box seals, uniform translucent ballot boxes, ballots with safety features and unique PEC stamps.
The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission final report “a balanced one”.
“Alongside with criticism, the document reflects the positive aspects of the last campaign and also the steps undertaken by the Belarusian authorities to further improve the election process taking into account the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. I think that the report can be viewed as a basis for further dialogue and constructive cooperation with the Office”, MFA’s spokesman told the media.
Belarusians went to the polls on Sunday, September 11, to choose candidates for 110 seats in the Parliament. Following the resulf of the voting, two opposition candidates have won seats in parliamentary elections in Belarus, their first representation in the chamber for 12 years. The preliminary statement by OSCE was released on 12 September.
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