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Belarus: What would be needed to hold new elections?

(September 28, 2020)


On 24 September, EPDE co-hosted an online debate with Democracy Reporting International inviting a dozen election experts from Belarus and beyond to discuss conditions for future elections. The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule.

While it currently does not look likely that the protesters’ demands for repeat presidential elections will be heeded, it is too early to rule out this scenario – or other electoral scenarios for that matter.

Discussion participants agreed that the baseline for electoral conduct in Belarus is low. Ever since the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) began observing elections in Belarus, it has found all of them to violate essential commitments that the Belarusian authorities had made in the OSCE context. Although ODIHR was unable to observe the 2020 presidential elections, Belarusian observer groups have come to similar conclusions for the August vote.

Every nook and cranny of Belarus’ electoral framework is designed to prevent free and competitive elections, including the set-up of election commissions, the registration of voters and candidates, the coverage by state media and the lack of transparency for counting and aggregating electoral results.

Participants were divided between two schools of thought on how to make the electoral framework fit as a basis for a democratic election. One group felt that a complete overhaul of the election law and the election administration was required. Others feared that the momentum for another election could be broken if a detailed law review and amendment were considered as a necessary first step. This second group argued that on an interim basis, only basic principles would need to be introduced for elections to take place. These include essential transparency safeguards (such as unhindered election observation, the transparent counting of ballots and aggregation of results), changing the members of the Central Election Commission and the unfettered right for people to stand in elections as candidates.

Participants also discussed which developments distinct from holding another a presidential election could provide avenues for change. As Lukashenko publicly discussed making constitutional amendments, a constitutional referendum could become an issue. Some wondered if the Russian government may press him to devolve powers from the presidency to the parliament and the prime minister. Some felt that new parliamentary elections may become relevant and that local elections next year could become another mobiliser of public engagement for democracy. Others argued that in a cemented authoritarian regime, incremental change was not an option and that real change could only come from a change in the presidency.

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