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Cablegate: Belarus: Obstacles to Getting On the Ballot and Monitoring

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FM AMEMBASSY MINSK
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INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
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RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
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FOR EUR/UMB (ASHEMA), DRL (DNADEL), AND EUR/ACE (KSALINGER)
EMBASSY KYIV FOR USAID (JRIORDAN AND KMONAGHAN)

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TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM BO
SUBJECT: BELARUS: OBSTACLES TO GETTING ON THE BALLOT AND MONITORING
THE VOTE COUNT MAKE FOR LONG ELECTIONS ODDS

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1. Summary: With local elections just two months away,
opposition parties in Brest, as elsewhere in Belarus, are facing
government obstacles to gaining seats on election boards and in
some case collecting signatures to get candidates on the ballot.
Nevertheless, opposition parties in Brest plan to coordinate
their activities with the goal of creating a handful of
transparent races where their candidates may then stand a fair
chance of competing. End Summary.

2. As Belarus prepares for polling in April to fill 21,300 seats
on regional, municipal and local councils, opposition parties in
the Brest Oblast (region) will have only minimal representation
on the multi-tiered system of electoral commissions overseeing
the nomination process and vote count. During CDA's recent
visit to Brest, opposition officials said that just seven
representatives from opposition parties have been included in
the region's 60 district-level election commissions. Opposition
parties, including the Belarusian Social Democratic
Party-Gramada (BSDP-G) and Spravedlivy Mir, are represented in
similarly low numbers on the 252 sub-district election
commissions. However, they expressed hope for more success in
placing independent nominees on seats at the lower precinct
level where votes are tabulated. The CDA was unable to get the
oblast government's perspective as no one was "available" to
meet with him during his two day visit.

3. Opposition leaders in Brest described some of the challenges
facing them in the run-up to the April 25 local elections. An
initial concern centers on the makeup of electoral commissions.
They worry that officials are choosing a "safe option" and
selecting only the most compliant nominees. Another area is
"Early Voting," where they share concerns that results can be
more easily manipulated during the extended voting period in the
week prior to election day when, depending on the precinct, from
10 to 60 percent of the ballots are cast.

4. They also described recent problems in collecting signatures
in support of nominees, citing a February 5 decision by Brest
authorities to ban groups from soliciting signatures on eight of
the city's major streets or within 50 meters of state or
official buildings, which in the state run society of Belarus
are quite prevalent. According to Ihar Maslowsky, Head of BSDP
(Gramada) in Brest Oblast, this ban makes the current election
campaign more difficult as compared to previous ones. Before,
it was necessary to simply notify the authorities about the
location of the nomination group. He noted collecting
signatures was an important part of any political campaign and
said it was not clear why the Brest authorities were trying to
hide the process in courtyards, quiet streets, and residential
areas. The Secretary of the Central Election Commission (CEC)
Mikalay Lazavik acknowledged in the national press on February
22 that local authorities in some regions were "excessively
cautious" in limiting the venues where signatures could be
collected. He said the CEC had criticized local authorities,
"but we have no right to overturn executive committees'
decisions," he explained.

5. Despite the obstacles, there are more signs of cooperation
among opposition groups in Brest than at the national level.
Representatives of the four parties and the For Freedom (FF)
movement described how they are dividing shares of electoral
districts to avoid direct competition with each other. They
also intend to focus candidates in precincts where there are
opposition representation on election commissions. According to
the Belarusian Popular Front, final decisions on fielding
candidate for their party will be made locally, not in Minsk,
and will depend on an assessment of whether local electoral
commissions include "democratic" members. The BSDP-G is also
committed to leaving decisions on participation to regional
party leaders and the candidates themselves. By contrast, the
United Civic Party intends to coordinate its party participation
decisions nationally. The FF movement is planning to field
candidates in races where they have some confidence there will
be some degree of transparency, and Spravedlivy Mir has
identified 27 candidates thus far for local council races in
Brest.

6. Comment: The opposition, showing more signs of cohesion at
the regional level than in Minsk, is moving forward in the face
of long odds to gain a modest footing in local government.
Their willingness to participate in the election process is
evidence that local opposition leaders hope to realize greater
influence and protection from a seat within the system than as
outside critic. They acknowledge openly the limited authority
that local government possesses, but they believe it will

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provide them a legal soap box to speak from, plus provide
governance experience on their resumes, and allow them in
partnership with local NGOs to solve local problems and build a
following. End Comment.
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