Aleksandr Lukashenko holds session to discuss election legislation improvement

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Amendments to election legislation should be balanced and should be to the benefit of the Belarusian nation. President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko made the statement at the government session held on 6 August to discuss the improvement of election legislation.

“Just like we agreed in January, we are meeting one more time and discussing the improvement of election legislation. I believe today’s discussion will be the final one before the bill is forwarded to the parliament”, noted the Head of State.

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the bill reflects the proposals to optimize the election process that were voiced at the January meeting.

“Since the bill touches upon matters vital for the election system, the decision to forward it to the House of Representatives the way the bill is now should be thought through and through,” believes the President.

The Head of State underlined that it is necessary to take into account all the possible consequences of the proposed measures and to clearly understand the mechanism for their implementation. “If we intend to loosen something, we should be confident that it will not negatively affect the stability in the country and the manageability of the situation during elections,” stressed Aleksandr Lukashenko. He remarked that lawlessness and lack of control are out of the question.

“I know that some people disprove of several clauses of the bill. Amendments to the procedure for financing election campaigns of candidates have met objections. In particular, amendments to increase the size of electoral funds and the possibility to create them during the nomination of candidates for the presidency of the Republic of Belarus even before candidates are registered,” noted the Head of State.

This is why Aleksandr Lukashenko suggested the bill should be discussed collegially, including the clauses that had invoked disagreement among participants of the session in order to make balanced decisions that meet interests of the Belarusian state in full measure. “Let’s not race ahead of time. Let’s try to keep up with events and particularly with the maturity of our society. And let’s resolve the issues that are available now without inventing some new ones by referring to new democratic or old democratic states and procedures,” said the President.

Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that there was one guideline: “Elections and other campaigns are held in Belarus for the Belarusian nation and in the name of this nation. And it is the Belarusian nation that has to resolve the problems that we will discuss today. We should do everything in a way the people, who live in our country, want it today. It is the ultimate point”.

Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus Lidia Yermoshina informed about the main novelties of the bill at the session. “The bill is not a favor for anyone. It is primarily an initiative of the Central Election Commission. We believe it will improve legal, political, and organizational conditions of election campaigns,” said the CEC head.

In her words, the bulk of the changes concern elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly. First and foremost, the procedure for determining election results will be changed: one round of elections has been suggested, with the current voter turnout threshold preserved.

“If there is more than one candidate, the one, who wins more votes than others, at least one more vote, will be declared winner. If there is one candidate only, the MP will be elected if over 50% of the voters, who came to polling stations, have voted for him or her,” said Lidia Yermoshina.

Changes will be introduced into the system of election commissions set up for holding elections to the House of Representatives. There are plans to set up an extra seven territorial election commissions, six oblast ones and one for the city of Minsk that will take over some functions from the Central Election Commission. The measure is supposed to facilitate the procedure for distributing central state budget funds for financing elections, establish proper control over the use of these funds, and allow dealing with election disputes promptly.

Since the bulk of decisions during elections to the House of Representatives are made at the level of district commissions, it has been suggested to transfer election commission members with consultative votes from the Central Election Commission to district election commissions.

Several amendments deal with pre-election campaigning and raising the awareness of voters during elections of all kinds.

A ban on campaigning to disrupt elections has been suggested as well as changes to the procedure used to finance election campaigns.

Lidia Yermoshina remarked that even during elections to the Parliament people constantly complain that they lack information about candidates. This is why it has been suggested that the state budget should stop financing propaganda expenses of candidates. The money will be handed over to local territorial and district election commissions so that they could make information leaflets and send them out to voters together with an invitation to visit polling stations. “Thus the state will take care of informing people about what candidates run for seats in specific constituencies,” said the CEC head.

Meanwhile, candidates for deputies and for presidency will retain the right to the free use of state mass media for pre-election speeches, debates, and for publishing their programs. Presidential candidates and candidates for deputy seats of all levels will be granted the right to create their own financial funds using their own money and money of citizens and corporations. At present the right is enjoyed by candidates for deputies of the House of Representatives and candidates for presidency.

With state budget financing for campaigning no longer available, Lidia Yermoshina suggested raising the limit on election coffers of presidential candidates by five times from 3,000 basic amounts to 15,000 basic amounts while coffers of candidates running for seats in the parliament can be increased by three times up to 3,000 basic amounts. After registering an initiative group during a presidential election the candidate will be able to open a bank account for the sake of accumulating funds as of the initiative group’s registration date.

The procedure for candidates to finance their election propaganda was one of the hotly debated points at the session.

Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly Anatoly Rubinov expressed his doubt regarding the advisability of increasing the size of election funds. During the previous parliamentary elections only a small number of candidates used the right to create such funds while the largest fund was five times less than the limit.

Opinions differed regarding the proposal to allow creating election funds for presidential candidates even before candidates are registered. Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Valery Mitskevich believes the move is justified. “Today the matter is not regulated when signatures are collected. If a fund is registered, money starts flowing in, hence there will be a control system in place. It will grant a certain degree of transparency,” he remarked.

Chairman of the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee Boris Batura believes that such a fund should be created only after candidates are registered: “The candidate has to prove he or she is worthy of becoming a candidate. It seems to me it would be logical to create a fund after registration”.

“As far as presidential candidates are concerned, they have to collect 100,000 signatures. When they start doing it, the initiative group has no money and naturally they have to get some shady money somewhere. We would like it to be done on a legal basis,” noted Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly Vladimir Andreichenko. “Candidates for seats in the House of Representatives will be able to create a fund only after they are registered, because they have only 1,000 signatures to collect and it is a small amount of work”.

In the end the Head of State and other participants of the session agreed that only the limit on election funds during presidential elections should be raised by three times. Besides, the proposal to allow creating election funds once the initiative group is registered has not been turned out completely. “As far as air time is concerned, it is necessary to enable equal conditions for everyone. The CEC will decide how many minutes every candidate should get,” remarked the President.

As for the financing of an election campaign Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that working with people is the key: “I remember my first presidential campaign. I walked across the entire country on foot. I didn’t have money, they were afraid of giving me money”.

According to Lidia Yermoshina, the polished variant of the bill will be submitted to the Head of State by 30 August. After that it will be forwarded for consideration of the Parliament.