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General elections and referendum in Byelorussia, a round up one week before the election

General elections and referendum in Byelorussia, a round up one week before the election

17/10/2004 - D-7

Incidents have increased in Byelorussia during the electoral campaign for the general elections and the referendum that are to take place on 17 October next.

On 16 September last two Human Rights campaigners, Tatiana Reviaka and Garry Pogoniaïlo, were arrested in the capital, Minsk, whilst they were distributing a report by the Council of Europe and written by the Cypriot Christos Pougouridès on the disappearances of members of the opposition. This report accuses the Byelorussian regime of being involved in the disappearance of Youri Zakharenko, former Interior Minister who disappeared on 7 May 1999, Viktor Gontchar, former Prime Minister, and Anatoly Krasovski, who both disappeared on 16 September the same year, then there was the journalist Dimitri Zavadski who disappeared on 7 July 2000.

On September 30, in his absence, the offices of Henadz Ananyew, member of the Civic Union Party (CAB), a movement that is openly opposed to President Alexandre Loukachenko were "visited" by the police who did not produce any form of search warrant. On 5 October last the water and gas supply were also cut off in the party's main headquarters; the authorities accused the party of not having paid its bills. Likewise a speech by candidate Mikalay Voran, a member of the Byelorussia Popular Front, was not, as had originally been planned, broadcast by the regional TV channel Hrodna - without any explanation on the part of the channel managers. "In my speech I presented myself as a representative of the democratic circles of society and challenged Alexander Loukachenko's regime", declared Mikalay Voran, who then also called Byelorussians to vote "no" to the referendum on 17 October next. On 5 October MP Alexander Dabravolski, president of the Civic Union Party, and a candidate in Svislach, received a warning from the electoral commission in his constituency for having distributed more than the authorised number of electoral tracts in the campaign (the number is 1800). The same day the opposition newspaper Nedelya was closed for three months without any reason on the part of the Information Minister, Vladimir Rousakevitvh. Since 7 September the date when the referendum was announced by President Alexander Loukachenko, 18 independent publications have been closed by the Byelorussian authorities.

Finally the country's Electoral Commission has refused, without providing an explanation, two leaders of the Polish minority, Tadeusz Kruckowski, who wanted to stand in the constituency of Shchuchyn-Voronovo where 70% of the people of Polish origin live and Tadeusz Gawin, president of the Union of the Poles of Byelorussia (ZPnB), the right to stand in the upcoming general elections. In all one third of the candidates presented by the opposition parties were rejected by the Byelorussia Electoral Commission. Viktor Karniyenka, member of the Civic Union Party, Youri Zakharanka, leader of one of the regional branches of the Social Demcorat Party of Popular Harmony (PPA), Guennadi Fedynich and Alexandre Boukhvostov, members of an opposition union had their candidatures rejected; the Commission accused them of having forged the signatures that are necessary to take part in the elections. Viktor Karniyenka formally denied this fact saying that he had also collated 12,000 signatures instead of the obligatory thousand.

On October 5 the Supreme Court of Byelorussia rejected 58 complaints lodged by people who had been rejected as candidates by the Electoral Commission, mostly due to inadequate signatures, ie believed by the Commission to be false. Only two complainants were finally authorised to stand in the general elections on 17 October next. These are Siarhey Yarmak, leader of the Social Democrat Party for Popular Harmony, who will stand in Homel and Vladimir Shohaw, member of the Communist Party (KPB), who will stand in the capital, Minsk.

On 13 September the European Parliament adopted a resolution by 499 votes in favour and 26 abstentions reprimanding the Loukachenko regime and his policy against the media; journalists, opposition members and Human Rights campaigners; they condemned the arbitrary arrests, the poor treatment of prisoners, the disappearances and persecution for political reasons. The European Parliament requested "free, loyal, fair, serious and transparent elections", re-iterating that "the further development of EU relations with Byelorussia would continue to depend on the progress undertaken in terms of democratisation and the reform of the country". In addition to this on 16 September the European Parliament condemned the referendum organised by President Alexander Loukachenko so that he might stand for a third mandate as Head of State. EuroMP's qualified this referendum as a "another demonstration of a authoritarianism with which Alexander Loukachenko governed his country".

For its part the Council of Europe provided its opinion via Peter Schieder, Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the European organisation, expressing its concern about the abuse of Human Rights and the arbitrary arrests of opposition politicians in Byelorussia as the general elections drew closer. "Although States are free to decide how they are governed, this can in no way be designed for one person only. We cannot refuse the Byelorussian authorities the right to organise a referendum, but we can ask them to watch that it takes place according to the rules of the Council of Europe", added Peter Schieder.

These comments were condemned by the Byelorussian authorities who qualified them as "pressure". "The Council of Europe's declaration, along with its negative appraisals, are counter productive. The holding of a national vote is every country's sovereign right that does not require the additional acknowledgement on the part of foreign organisations. This declaration is an instrument of open pressure on international observers", maintained the press secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Andreï Savinikh. For his part Alexander Loukachenko has declared that the Byelorussian authorities were particularly tolerant of opposition movements. "If I were to follow the law scrupulously several parties would have been banned. I haven't done it so that the authorities are not accused of putting pressure on whoever it might be", he maintained. He declared that he did not care about the condemnations from the West. "We live in Byelorussia which is our country and our homeland, we shall act as we think fit. I do not care about the reactions from the West, the East or the South. Whatever these might be we shall continue to act as we please and according to our laws", he added. He also accused both Russia and America, as well as others, of financing the opposition with a view to destabilising his government and country.

In a final provocation Alexander Loukachenko participated on 7 October in the inauguration of a memorial dedicated to the founder of unfortunately infamous Soviet secret police, the Tcheka, father of the KGB, Félix Dzerjinski, in the village of Dzerjinovo, that lies nearby the capital. "Even those who see the Soviet period in black point to the remarkable role this man played in the creation of a new State, in the reconstruction of the railways after the civil war, in the fight against vagrancy and the creation of the most powerful special services of the 20th century", declared the Head of State.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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