On the Single Voting Day, Belarusians will elect 110 representatives to the House of Representatives and some 1,200 to local Councils of Deputies.

Belarus will hold a Single Voting Day on Sunday, February 25, marking the first election after the mass protests of 2020. The BIC has identified nine factors that impact the outcome and determine whether the events of four years ago will be repeated.

The Parliament has no power to remove Lukashenko from office

On the Single Voting Day, Belarusians will elect 110 representatives to the House of Representatives and some 1,200 to local Councils of Deputies. The House of Representatives is the lower house of parliament. The upper house, the Council of the Republic, is partially elected by the deputies of the Local Councils, with eight representatives from each region and the city of Minsk. Another eight are appointed by Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The Belarusian parliament had the nominal power to remove the president from office before the 2022 referendum on changing the Constitution. After the amendments to the principal law were passed, this action is no longer available to the Parliament. The proposal to do so can only be made to the All-Belarusian Popular Assembly by deputies.

This new governing entity is scheduled to come into existence at the end of April. The assembly will have 1,200 delegates. These will include the deputies of both chambers, Aleksandr Lukashenko, and members of the government. To remove the President from office, a majority of the full All-Belarus Popular Assembly must vote in favour. 

Most Belarusians do not hope for any positive change to come

The International Expert Centre iSANS conducted a poll which found that 31% of Belarusians plan to participate in the upcoming House of Representatives and local council elections. An additional 26% responded with “rather yes”. Meanwhile, 29% indicated that they would not or were unlikely to vote.

At the same time, 47% of respondents are sure that the situation in Belarus will not change after the election of a new parliament and local councils. It is believed that it will improve significantly by 5% of Belarusians. Another 13% believe that the situation will improve slightly. Negative changes are expected by 3% of respondents. 31% of the respondents were undecided.

Elections occur amidst mass repression and censorship

Tens of thousands of Belarusians have faced criminal and administrative charges since the 2020 protests in Belarus were suppressed. The Viasna Human Rights Centre reports that repression has not weakened, but rather the situation has critically worsened, even 3.5 years later. Every day, searches and detentions continue across the country. In January 2024 alone, at least 310 individuals were detained.

Human rights activists estimate that there are approximately 1,500 political prisoners in Belarus as of the end of February. At least 745 additional political prisoners completed their sentences and were released, but some were re-arrested.

The Belarusian authorities have labelled the majority of independent Belarusian mass media outlets, hundreds of social media channels, and blogs as “extremist formations.” These resources are blocked in Belarus, and distributing their content or following them on social media can lead to criminal prosecution for Belarusians. 

The Belarusian authorities use the pretext of combating extremism and terrorism to suppress dissent in society and instil fear in all spheres of life, according to human rights activists.

It is no longer possible to vote outside Belarus

In the upcoming elections, for the first time, no polling stations will be organised abroad. Belarusian citizens living abroad can only participate in voting by returning to Belarus.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry reports that over 200,000 citizens have left Belarus in 2021-2022. Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Mikalai Karpiankou estimated that 350 thousands opponents of the current Belarusian authorities have left the country, according to Zerkalo newspaper. Up to half a million Belarusians could leave the country due to political repression following the rigged 2020 presidential elections, according to PACE estimates. That means up to 5% of citizens may be unable to vote unless they return home.

Those who participated in the protests, donated to human rights organizations and independent media, or left negative comments on social media about Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarusian security forces, and officials, are at risk of imprisonment if they return to Belarus. 

Most ballots feature just two candidates

265 candidates are competing for 110 parliamentary seats in this election. Thus, the average competition rate for a deputy mandate is 2.4 people. 18,802 candidates are running for the 12,514 local council seats, which translates to about 1.5 per seat.

All opposition parties have been shut down

The 2019 parliamentary elections were contested by representatives of 16 political parties. Including openly oppositional ones. The Supreme Court deregistered most of them in the summer and fall of 2023. 

There are currently only four legally operating political parties in Belarus: the Communist Party of Belarus, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, and the Belaya Rus Party. All of them are loyal to Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Voter turnout breaks records even though there is no longer a need for it

Early voting is setting records. The Belarusian CEC reports that 24.44% of voters participated in early voting over three days. That compares to 22.47% who voted early on the three days of early voting for the 2020 presidential election, and 18.69% in 2015.

Opposition politicians and activists have criticized early voting in Belarus for its potential to be falsified. For instance, ballot boxes are left unattended by observers at night, creating opportunities for ballot box stuffing to inflate the turnout. Previously, the turnout had to exceed 50% for the election to be deemed valid. Last year, the Belarusian parliament adopted amendments to the Electoral Code, which abolished the turnout threshold. This means that elections will be held regardless of the number of voters who turn up.

Penalties for ballot paper removal

Before the 2020 presidential election, the Honest People initiative urged Belarusians to submit photos of their ballots to the Golos (Vote) online platform. The platform reportedly received responses from over 550,000 voters. The Golos creators reported that falsifications were detected in every third polling station, according to the official voting records and processed ballot photos.

The new amendments to the Electoral Code effectively make this way of recording election fraud illegal. Removing a ballot from the station results in a fine of 600 Belarusian rubles (approximately $200). Taking photos or videos of the completed ballot is not allowed either. 

It is also prohibited to re-issue a new ballot to replace a spoiled one. However, it was prohibited to deface the ballot even before the adoption of the amendments. During the 2022 referendum on changing the Constitution, a Vitsebsk resident was detained for ticking the ballot paper twice. The police reported that the man staged an unauthorized picket by making two marks instead of one. 

Lukashenko has deployed armed patrols on the streets, creating a climate of fear

On the day early voting began, Aleksandr Lukashenko ordered the police to start patrolling Belarusian cities carrying small arms.

"Patrols should be armed. With small arms. At least with pistols. And everyone should be aware of that," he demanded.

During the meeting with security forces, Lukashenko frightened the public by suggesting the possibility of a Third World War. He claimed that Polish and American intelligence were preparing a large-scale provocation against the civilian population of Poland, which would be blamed on Russia and Belarus. Lukashenko stated that Belarusian opposition activists abroad and "their handlers from the special services" are working on several scenarios for a change of power in Belarus. One of these scenarios "involves organizing a coup d'état or violent seizure of power during the election campaign."

Meanwhile, Belarusian state TV aired a video showing law enforcers arresting a "person taking pictures of the ballot paper," and some time later, "troublemakers who artificially created a queue outside a polling station."

Political analyst Artsiom Shraibman emphasizes the importance of a peaceful election cycle for the Belarusian authorities after what they faced in 2020. This will demonstrate that "the page has been turned", and they fully control the situation.

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