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Urgent need for electoral reform in Belarus

Doc. 15253: collection of written amendments | Doc. 15253 | 20/04/2021 | Final version

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ADraft Resolution

1The Parliamentary Assembly stresses that free and fair elections constitute the very foundation of democratic government and a cornerstone of representative democracy. It deeply regrets that elections in Belarus have never met international standards of freedom and fairness and that this failed electoral system has been a driving factor behind the current political, economic and human rights crisis affecting the country since the presidential election of 9 August 2020.
2For more than two decades, the Assembly, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR), the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), as well as the civil society in Belarus have been pointing to the systemic problems in the electoral system and recommending, to no avail, that the electoral legislation and practice be amended.
3The Assembly recalls that, for reasons beyond its control, it had to decline the invitation to observe the presidential election of 9 August 2020. However, based on the evaluation of independent local observers who concluded that gross violations of international standards for democratic elections had taken place and knowing that the electoral system which has earned Belarus criticism in the past remains unchanged, the Assembly also concludes that the 2020 presidential election was neither free nor fair.
4The Assembly firmly believes that a fully-fledged electoral reform, geared towards implementing all previous Assembly, OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations, remains essential for setting the basis for future democratic, free and fair elections which can meaningfully reflect the will of the people of Belarus and allow them to regain confidence in the electoral process. Not only a reform of the legal framework but also the implementation of the legislation in good faith, by an independent and impartial election administration that enjoys public trust, are paramount in this context.
5In light of the above, the Assembly urges the Belarusian authorities to conduct a comprehensive reform of the electoral system taking into account the full set of recommendations of the Assembly, the OSCE/ODIHR, and the Venice Commission, in close consultation with all relevant stakeholders, in particular the civil society. In this context, it urges them to bring the electoral law and practice in conformity with international standards for democratic elections, and in particular to:
5.1guarantee the independence and impartiality of the electoral administration by making it adequately representative and setting the basis for a politically balanced membership of election commissions at all levels, starting by the Central Election Commission (CEC), including by:
5.1.1introducing a requirement for the CEC to include representatives nominated by key political stakeholders, including different political parties and civil society representatives, with full voting rights;
5.1.2establishing clear rules governing the process by which members of elections commissions below the CEC level are appointed by the local authorities, including a requirement to include commission members nominated by all contestants;
5.2create a publicly available national voter list with a view to increasing the transparency and accountability of the voter registration process;
5.3regulate early voting in a comprehensive way by introducing measures to guarantee its integrity, transparency and exceptional nature, including by:
5.3.1specifying in detail clear mechanisms for ensuring the safety and security of the ballot boxes through early voting;
5.3.2limiting the number of polling stations for early voting;
5.3.3authorising early voting only in specific cases and to those voters who can prove that they cannot be present at the place of residence on the election day;
5.4take measures to ensure the transparency of the vote counting, including by introducing a requirement that each ballot paper as well as the results of the election in each polling station be announced publicly and displayed;
5.5allow national and international observers to carry out their work effectively and without impediment, including by clearly authorising them to:
5.5.1approach members of the polling station to verify electoral rolls and signatures, and to observe the counting of the votes in a direct and effective way, including through direct and visual access to ballot papers;
5.5.2be present during the verification of signatures submitted for the nomination of candidates;
5.5.3have access to storage of ballots and ballot boxes during early voting, including outside working hours;
5.6subject the registration of candidates to clear, comprehensive and transparent criteria and less restrictive conditions;
5.7subject any decision of electoral commissions, including election results, to review, including a possibility of a judicial review of all administrative decisions.
6Calling for caution as regards the holding of snap elections on the basis of the current electoral system, the Assembly stresses that such elections could be deemed reasonably free and fair, only if a genuinely independent and impartial CEC can ensure, through the use of regulations, ordinances, circulars or instructions, that the requirements listed above are fulfilled to the greatest extent possible, and national and international observers can properly monitor the entire electoral process.

In the draft resolution, paragraph 6, replace the words:

"Calling for caution as regards the holding of snap elections on the basis of the current electoral system, the Assembly" with the following words: "The Assembly is aware of the calls from national and international actors for holding snap elections on the basis of the current electoral system and"

7The Assembly stresses that democratic elections are not possible without respect for human rights, in particular freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association. It condemns in strongest terms the unprecedented wave of violence, mass arrests, intimidation and prosecution of political opponents, human rights defenders, journalists, media workers, independent election observers and citizens of Belarus following the 2020 presidential election.
8This violent repression is not only an outright disregard for the core values upheld by the Council of Europe but also a major obstacle to any meaningful reform in the country, including an electoral reform. Referring to its Resolution … (2021) “Human rights violations in Belarus require an international investigation”, the Assembly urges the Belarusian authorities to put an immediate halt on all violence.
9Recalling that the integration of Belarus to the Council of Europe on the basis of the Organisation’s values and principles remains a strategic objective, the Assembly calls on the Belarusian authorities and all relevant stakeholders to urgently initiate a broad-based and inclusive national dialogue to ensure a peaceful way out of the current crisis and opening the door for necessary reforms benefiting all Belarusian citizens. The Assembly – together with the Venice Commission – reiterates its readiness to offer practical and technical guidance to Belarusian authorities with a view to an electoral reform. It firmly believes that this and other necessary reforms will pave the way for a new Belarus that is based on human rights, democracy and rule of law.

In the draft resolution, paragraph 9, after the words "all relevant stakeholders"

insert the following words: ", including all opposition representatives and civil society,"

In the draft resolution, paragraph 9, replace the word "initiate" with the following word:

"conduct"

DDraft Recommendation

1The Parliamentary Assembly refers to its Resolution … (2021) “Urgent need for electoral reform in Belarus”. It invites the Committee of Ministers to:
1.1continue to closely follow the situation in Belarus;
1.2adopt measures to complement the Council of Europe Action Plan for Belarus 2019-2021 with targeted action of primary importance for constructing transparent and democratic institutions in Belarus, including an electoral reform with a view to putting the electoral legislation in line with European and international electoral standards, with the involvement of the Venice Commission and the Assembly;
1.3implement the above-mentioned measures as soon as it becomes feasible following a clear commitment of the Belarusian authorities to engage in a democratic transition process.