Belarus 2010: Most likely methods of manipulation and fraud.
Posted by democratist on December 1, 2010
1st December 2010,
It is always hard to predict exactly which techniques will be used to rig a particular election in advance, especially since these may vary according to the changing legal context, as well as from region to region, but on the basis of past experience the main methods likely to be employed in the 19th December 2010 Presidential elections in Belarus are as follows;
Firstly, the regime can abuse its huge influence and monopoly of power within local administrations to both ensure a good turnout, and encourage or coerce individuals to vote for the incumbent.
The local administration achieves this by abusing its control over resources such as jobs and education:
In this regard, employees of state enterprises (who make up about 50% of the workforce in Belarus), may be brought into a meetings with their managers, and told that their jobs might be on the line if the President is not re-elected (or more directly, if they do not vote for him). The many people who work for local authorities (hospitals, clinics, water, roads, sanitation etc.) will receive similar talks from the mayor or another senior figure. University staff and students will also be threatened with expulsion of they don’t vote for the for the right candidate. Very often these groups will be encouraged to vote early to ensure a high turnout, and in some cases transport will be arranged to get them to the polls.
As an example of this form of manipulation, the NGO “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” recently noted that, during a meeting at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, Rector Mikhail Batura is quoted as having stated;
“We have a great upcoming political event, the presidential election. I cannot ignore the issue. I urge you all to take part in this election. Moreover, I even advise you on the candidate for whom to vote. This is the incumbent head of the state, because everything good that was done in this country was achieved in the years of his presidency. Therefore, I urge you all to take part in the election….We have always encouraged our students to go to early voting, because then… different situations happen…Therefore, early voting will be held from December 13th, and I urge you to take part in it.”
It is to be noted that those voting will be afraid that the authorities have the ability to find out who they voted for by checking the ballots cast against counterfoils (regardless of whether this actually happens).
Secondly, the fact that Belarus allows for “early voting” between 14th-18th December (during which typically 30% of the total number of votes will be cast) has in the past facilitated ballot-box stuffing, because the ballot boxes remain under the protection of Polling Station staff outside voting hours during the early voting period (and international observers do not arrive until shortly before the final “election day” on 19th December) and this has made it easy for senior PEC staff to cast additional votes for the incumbent after the polling has closed, as well as falsify signatures on the voter register to legitimize these votes.
It is to be noted that the CEC has recently changed the law to make this practice harder (for example, ballot boxes are to be sealed at the end of each day) but the extent to which the change in the rules will be followed on the ground remains to be seen.
Additionally, in the past, international observers have not been permitted to watch the counting of votes too closely, and are forced to sit at a distance that makes it hard for them to see the marks on the ballot (again the CEC has apparently passed a resolution to allow them to observe more closely this time).
Furthermore, in 2006 the OSCE reported that, in a number of instances, the completed election results forms were completed in pencil (which of course can be altered later).
So, there are a multiple opportunities for fraud, but the most significant enabler of these is the near total absence of opposition representation throughout the election administration, as well as in local government generally.
Perhaps the best illustration of the barely-hidden bias of the system to have emerged so far was provided by the Chair of the Central Election Commision, Lidia Yermoshina, yesterday. In response to the release of polling data indicating that President Lukashenko may currently have less than 50% support, and might therefore be forced into a second round run-off, ITAR TASS reports this nominally independent appointee as stating, “Why do you think that will be a two-round election? I am positive I will see in New Year at home.”