The election will take place on March 19, 2006. For all relevant deadlines, see the official calendar of events, published by the Central Commissions for Elections and the Conduct of Referendums.
As an OSCE member state, Belarus
is committed to invite all OSCE member states and various
non-governmental organizations from these states to send election
observers. This commitment results from Section 8 in the so-called Copenhagen Document,
that was approved by Soviet Union in 1990 (Belarus inherited its
membership in OSCE from Soviet Union, and likewise inherited all OSCE
commitments approved by Soviet Union).
In the past, Belarus fulfilled this commitment, and invited
observers of various origins (see below).
But this election is different: although the OSCE itself was invited to
observe it, member states of OSCE and non-governmental organizations
from these states were not invited (except for CIS member states).
As a result, the number and variety of observers is unusually restricted. For example, the international non-governmental organization ENEMO planned to send an observation mission. Poland planned to send a large national, government-sponsored mission. Both missions were cancelled, due to the absence of invitations.
The OSCE ODIHR is the
organizational unit within the OSCE that organizes election
observation. The work performed by OSCE
commonly recognized as highly professional and highly respectable.
So far, the OSCE ODIHR produced two reports about the 2006
The OSCE ODIHR observation mission has a web page.
An incomplete English translation of the code is published by the Belarusian authorities. Beware: the translation is incomplete, and at least some of the missing text is not marked as missing. Use with caution.
Past OSCE ODIHR reports are available from this page. They concern previous Belarusian elections (2000, 2001 and 2004). You can also directly access the OSCE ODIHR assessment of the Belarusian electoral code.
All these reports are negative. The most recent one (from the 2004 parliamentary election) is devastating.
CIS (Community of Independent States) reports are available from this page (I am in no way endorsing these reports; I just mention them for the sake of completeness).
List of international organizations and foreign states that sent observers for the previous presidential elections, in 2001 (document published by the Central Commission).
Links to the laws are above.
The notes below summarize points of the electoral law that I find important. I write this from the perspective of a short-term observer, i.e., I emphasize things that happen on the election day (do not forget that many things that happen before the election day, and that are not covered here, are equally important; for example, equal access to national television is of prime importance).
The description of observers' duties and rights is in art. 13 of the electoral code. The following points seem interesting:
According to art. 13, observers must not ask voters questions before or after the vote; this rule looks excessively restrictive.
The accreditation of an international observer may only be terminated by the Central Electoral Commission. This is a good rule: the law does not permit local commissions to use pretexts and exclude international observers.
The possibility to take photographs is not mentionned (the same concerns sound and video recordings). Does this imply that taking photographs is permitted, or prohibited, or subject to permission of the president of the electoral commission?
Art. 49 of the code allows observers to register complaints with electoral commissions or with the public attorney office. Authorities are under obligation to investigate all such complaints.
Advance voting is available to all voters, in all precincts, during the 5 days preceding the election day (art. 53 of the code). Observers noted problems with this procedure in the past. It seems practically impossible to observe this procedure (a complete observation effort would involve observing the ballot box during five days and five nights).
Anyone can vote at home (art. 54 of the code).
A precinct can be formed for as few as 20 voters (art. 17). Potential problems: secrecy of vote can be uncertain with so few voters; observation of vote may be extremely difficult if there is a large number of small precincts.
Precints can be created in military units (art. 17). Potential problem: undue influence or intimidation of military hierarchy over voting soldiers. As far as I understand, the law does not ensure that the electoral commission is not staffed with army officers.Precints can be created in hospitals (art. 17). Potential problem: same as for military precints.
According to art. 34, precinct electoral commissions are established by local authorities (executive commitees). I don't see any rules ensuring pluralism in the commissions: art. 35 describes how candidates for membership in commissions can be nominated by various organizations and citizens, but there is no guarantee that the local authorities will make a really pluralistic choice among these candidates.
Checking whose representatives are included in electoral comissions may be an interesting aspect of the observation work.
A voter unable to vote alone is permitted to enter the voting booth with another person of her choice (art. 52). Said person may not be a commission member, a candidate or an observer. Potential problem: family voting and other forms of undue influence on voters, based on the possibility to falsely pretend that someone is unable to vote alone.
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