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British Helsinki Human Rights Group Observers
Declare Belarus Elections Free and Fair

[Posted 11 September 2001]
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The British Helsinki Human Rights Group sent eight international observers to the presidential elections held in the Republic of Belarus on 9th September 2001 and also sent a pre-election monitor in the fortnight before the poll. The members of the delegation were citizens of the United Kingdom, the United States, Poland and Croatia. BHHRG has observed all national polls in Belarus since 1994.

Observers were deployed throughout the country, to Brest, Grodno, Minsk and environs. Our observers reported that the organisation of the elections was of a high level. Commission members were well informed of the law and polling stations were well equipped, orderly and clean. The secrecy of the ballot was observed in all the polling stations visited. As the results indicated, there was a high level of participation, particularly outside the capital city. BHHRG also observed six polling stations during the early voting period and also observed the count in four polling stations. On the basis of our observation of the voting and the count, and our discussions with local observers, BHHRG saw no reason to challenge the result. BHHRG is always critical of early voting, which unfortunately exists in many countries including Germany and the United Kingdom.

BHHRG observers encountered many different views from voters, who showed a high level of political maturity and awareness. Several voters were happy to volunteer the fact that they were voting for change, i.e. against the incumbent president. None expressed any fear or pressure, contrary to what was claimed in the Western media. Some complained that the incumbent president enjoyed too great a presence in the state media; others said they felt the campaign had been fairly conducted and that they had enough information on which to base their choice.

However, there was a strong feeling among many voters that they did not have a serious choice of candidates. This was probably a result of foreign interference. The OSCE, in its report on the parliamentary elections in October 2000, recommended that the opposition unite behind a single candidate. Hans-Georg Wieck, the head of the OSCE mission, wrote in La Libre Belgique on 31st August 2001 that the OSCE was helping an umbrella organisation to unite the various opposition parties. These statements are incompatible with the duty of foreign organisations to observe strict neutrality in their dealings with the internal political affairs of a sovereign state. It was also an anti-democratic step to take: since there are two rounds in the Belarusian elections, potential opposition voters should have been allowed to choose their own candidate in the first round. Instead of this, they were partially disenfranchised by foreigners.

As a consequence of this interference, there was some tension in polling stations during the count between foreign-trained domestic observers and the electoral commissions. The result was to make some local Belarusian commission members feel intimidated. BHHRG also found that some of these domestic observers had behaved inappropriately during the early voting period. Overall, the OSCE's behaviour thus made a negative contribution to the democratic process, causing friction and polarisation instead of allowing civil debate to take its free course. Fortunately, the good nature of the Belarusian people prevented this from leading to any unpleasantness.

Minsk, 10th September 2001

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