International Conference: "Democratic Elections to Solve the Crisis in Belarus"

Belarusians participate in a demonstration.




On June 1-2, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), International IDEA and Democracy Reporting International, under the auspices of the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, hosted a two-day Zoom conference on “Democratic Elections for Resolution of the Crisis in Belarus.” More than 100 participants attended the event, in addition to nearly 200 viewers on Facebook Live and YouTube. The discussions were held just following the hijacking of the Ryanair flight and subsequent arrest of Roman Pratasevich, the suicide of 18-year-old Dzmitry Stakhouski following his charges for participating in “mass riots,” the attempted suicide of activist Stsyapan Latypau and the temporary ban on citizens traveling outside the country. The previously livestreamed videos, available on IFES’ Regional Europe Office YouTube page, have now garnered over 5,000 views. The event was simultaneously interpreted into English, Russian and Belarusian.

In light of the escalating political upheaval in Belarus and the increasing need for a democratic solution and vision for the country’s future, the conference brought together political stakeholders, representatives of international organizations, election management bodies, international election practitioners and local experts representing the democratic forces of Belarus for an open and inclusive dialogue. To this end, the current governing authorities were invited to participate but did not respond to direct outreach by Tsikhanouskaya’s team. The event was divided into four panels discussing short- and long-term legal, electoral and structural reforms, with panelists concluding with the importance of transparency, peaceful dialogue, targeted changes to electoral regulations and administration and the importance of citizen engagement and education as part of local ownership led by Belarusians in the future democratic transition.

Panelists also discussed the idea of holding early elections to end the political crisis in Belarus, as well as the longer-term objective of post-crisis fundamental electoral reform, including adoption of a new election code. Experts from other countries in the region such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova shared their experiences in holding post-crisis elections and facilitating longer-term, sustainable electoral reform. IFES Regional Director for Europe and Eurasia Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumiłowicz moderated the first panel, which focused on possible democratic solutions for the crisis in Belarus and featured Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, European Parliament Vice President Klára Dobrev, Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Courtney Austrian, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Secretary-General Robert Montella and International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora. During her remarks, Tsikhanouskaya emphasized that the goal of the discussions is to explore “how we can organize free and fair elections pursuant to international standards” and that “free and fair elections are key to a new democratic Belarus.”

While the immediate path forward is uncertain, panelists agreed that change is indispensable, particularly as the current ruling regime becomes increasingly draconian in its restrictions on human rights, freedom of speech, access to information and freedom of assembly. The significance of the conference underscored the imperative of open dialogue on issues of genuine democracy and electoral integrity. As Lev Margolin, member of the Working Group on a New Constitution noted, “dialogue, particularly when laws and human rights are not being respected, is the most important way to support genuine change in a society.” High-level speakers like Klára Dobrev and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya also drew an international audience, bringing greater global awareness to the situation in Belarus and prompting an international strategic dialogue. IFES plans to utilize the valuable momentum and discourse from this event by hosting additional fora in the near term that will connect international stakeholders on these salient issues and offer continued support through technical expertise on electoral reform. The conference demonstrated the international community’s commitment to supporting electoral reform as well as its unwavering dedication to a democratic Belarus.

Read the program. To watch recordings in Belarusian and Russian, visit this YouTube playlist.

Read IFES' review and analysis of the legal frameworks for national elections and referendums in Belarus.

Published on August 26, 2021.

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