Pre-Election Technical Assessment of the Parliamentary Elections in Belarus
A three-member delegation sponsored by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems visited the Republic of Belarus from December 11, 1993 through December 21, 1993 to assess that country's developing electoral process in preparation for the nationwide parliamentary elections which were tentatively scheduled for March of 1994. The trip was prompted by Secretary of State Warren Christopher's October 26, 1993, meeting in Miensk (Minsk) with Stanislav Shushkevich, the former Chairman of the Supreme Soviet. During that meeting the two agreed that the United States would provide assistance for the elections. USAID asked that IFES review preparations for the elections and make recommendations on election assistance.
In the course of the delegation's l0-day visit to Miensk (Minsk), team members met with deputies of parliament, representatives of political parties and public organizations, election officials, members of the press and broadcast media, labor leaders, educators, students, and local administrators in order to gain the broadest perspective possible. In addition, the team had the opportunity to make a trip outside the capital to visit with local officials in a constituency where a by-election to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Soviet had just been held a week earlier.
The delegation left Belarus impressed by the opportunity for democratic change, but sobered by the obstacles that slow its progress. Though democratic forces had been able to gather almost 442,000 signatures within a two-month period on a petition for a referendum calling for early elections, within Belarus there is an entrenched, pro-communist elite reluctant to move toward democratic changes which could potentially strip them of their power. The early elections set for March were offered as a concession when the referendum was rejected by the Supreme Soviet without legal justification. After delays in formalizing a new constitution and enacting a new election law, Belarus announced a newly adopted constitution in March 1994 and presidential and parliamentary elections for the first and second halves of 1994, respectively. Though presidential elections will be held on June 23, 1994, there is little to suggest that these will be much different in character from past Soviet multi-candidate elections.
Based on its findings the IFES team concludes that the international community could assist Belarus in preparing for the next parliamentary elections and supporting the country's progress toward democratic reforms in several ways. Above all, the international community's interest in free and fair elections should be made absolutely clear to government officials, opposition leaders and the people of Belarus whose perception is that such interests take a back seat to concern over the disposition of nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil. Sponsorship of programs of governmental and nongovernmental organizations can help build a democratic infrastructure in Belarus. An independent media should be supported and nonpartisan civic and voter education programs should be funded. It is discouraging that one major private donor has decided to reduce funding to Belarus due to the government's unwillingness to allow the emergence of free institutions. Training in grassroots organizing and communications skills should be offered to political parties. There may also be opportunities to provide technical assistance to the Central Election Commission in developing training programs and procedural guidelines.
These recommendations and their rationale are discussed in detail in this assessment report. The report may also be useful to international observers who may be monitoring political developments and preparations for upcoming elections in Belarus.