Three-to-one. One-to-four. Signing for a president
Five presidential candidates submitted the required number of signatures to the Central Election Commission of Belarus. Four of them made an official shortlist.
On 21 August 2015 five presidential candidates delivered at least 100 000 collected signatures each - the number required by the Central Election Commission (CEC). Lidia Yarmoshyna, head of the CEC since 1996, reminded about regulations concerning collecting voters’ signed support.
Stating the rules
What makes a signature invalid? Yarmoshyna disqualified signatures that:
– were collected before the appointed time – 23 July 2015
– were collected by unauthorized persons
– are fictitious or written with a pencil
– were added by a resident of another region,
– are in an incorrectly certified subscription list.
If the number of invalid signatures is more than 15 percent of the total number of all names collected in a district or city, CEC declares all of them in the given area invalid. On 10 September the Commission provided the final list of candidates who fulfilled all requirements: Alexander Lukashenko, Sergei Gaidukevich, Nikolai Ulakhovich and Tatsiana Karatkevich.
Breaking the rules
While the candidates were waiting for the final announcement, “Za Svabodu” movement (“For Freedom”) put in doubt the number of signatures collected for Tatsiana Karatkevich, the only democratic candidate who had crossed the threshold with more than 100 000 supporters. The complaint of “Za Svabodu” states: “The doubts are reinforced by the fact that the teams of the candidates Anatoly Lebedko and Sergey Kalyakin have openly declared that they were unable to overcome the barrier of 100 000 signatures.” The movement proposed to hold a public signature verification together with the independent and non-state organization “Nash Dom” (“Our House”) and the oppositional parties – Belarusian Christian Democracy and Belarusian Popular Front.
However, on behalf of CEC Yarmoshyna called any attempts on signature verification not sanctioned by the constitution “illegal”, with organisers of such initiatives threatened with prosecution. A more serious accusation concerning the signature collection was issued against Victor Tereshchenko in Hrodno. Observers of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” stated that all 11 509 signatures delivered by Tereshchenko’s initiative group in two districts of the east Belarusian city had been falsified. The list included names of dead and fake people and passport numbers not matching names of the signatories. The incident was later confirmed by the Department of Citizenship and migration service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which resulted in refusal of registration. The Supreme Court of Belarus rejected Tereshchenko’s complaint on the actions of the CEC.
CEC accredited around 20 750 members of candidates’ initative groups collectin signatures.. Journalists of several Belarusian media attempted to interview the activists. According to a survey conducted by TUT.BY, the biggest and least sociable among them belonged to the incumbent president’s initiative group. Over 80 percent of its members refused to answer reporters' questions.
Know your candidate
David Rothman, director of the Center for Sociological and Political Studies at the Belarusian State University, believes that after the stage of collecting signatures, voters will now become more aware of the election race: “This phase contributed to a growing number of people familiar with the names of candidates. Initiative groups provided basic information and explained candidates’ policies to the voters”.
In his political column on TUT.BY, the most popular Belarusian online resource, Artyom Shraibman writes that the first period of campaigning has exposed several trends determining development of the political life in Belarus. He notes that Lukashenko with his 1.7 million signatures surpassed even himself from the last elections in 2010, when he gained 1.1 supporters at the same stage.
That means that this year every fourth citizen of Belarus has already signed for Lukashenko.