Belarus Refuses OSCE Observation of Parliamentary Elections

PeopleOther ♦ Published: January 16, 2024; 11:35 ♦ (Vindobona)

The Belarusian authorities have decided not to invite observers from the OSCE to the upcoming parliamentary and local elections. This decision contradicts Belarus' international commitments and highlights concerns about the transparency and democratic standards of the elections.

President Lukashenko has refused to invite OSCE observers in the parliamentary elections, marking the first since the 2020 presidential elections, which secured his sixth term and sparked mass protests. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Ravaika Ruslan (CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Belarusian authorities have declared that they will not invite observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the country's upcoming parliamentary and local elections scheduled for February 25, 2024. This decision marks a significant move by President Alexander Lukashenko to further consolidate his control over Belarus's political institutions. Andrei Dapkiunas, Belarus’ permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, stated that the decision was influenced by a range of factors, including geographical and functional imbalances in the OSCE election observation system, Western dominance in OSCE missions, and deteriorating interstate interaction within the OSCE. This has led to a confidence crisis and logistical challenges, compounded by the closure of border checkpoints by Western neighbors and air traffic restrictions.

The OSCE, whose observers have been the only international monitors of Belarusian elections for decades, sees this step as a breach of the commitments Belarus has made as a member state. Matteo Mecacci, Director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said that this refusal deprives Belarusian citizens and institutions of an impartial, transparent and comprehensive assessment.

Lukashenko against OSCE

The upcoming election is set against a backdrop of ongoing repression, with approximately 1,500 political prisoners, including opposition leaders and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski, remaining behind bars, as reported by AP News. Belarus under President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled in an authoritarian manner for almost three decades, has also passed a restrictive law on religion that requires all religious organizations to be re-registered and expands the grounds for a ban. Critics see this as a further step towards the suppression of all opposition.

The refusal to invite OSCE observers is the latest move by President Lukashenko to consolidate his control over the country. The parliamentary elections are the first since the controversial 2020 presidential elections, which secured Lukashenko his sixth term in office and sparked nationwide mass protests. The government responded with a harsh crackdown on the protests, arresting more than 35,000 people and forcing many to flee the country.

In the run-up to the elections, Belarus carried out a "re-registration" of political parties, with only four pro-government parties out of the original 15 receiving permission to continue operating in the country. Opposition politicians are not expected to be on the ballot. The head of Belarus' Central Election Commission, Ihar Karpenka, asserted that the election will be held under full control of the authorities, free from what they consider "destructive influences." Belarus plans to invite observers from Russia and Central Asian nations instead of OSCE representatives. Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who lives in exile in Lithuania, called on Belarusians to boycott the election, describing it as a "farce without international supervision".

These developments show an intensification of the Belarusian government's repressive measures. The decision to exclude OSCE observers is seen internationally as a further step towards undemocratic practices and the restriction of civil rights. It also reflects the ongoing political crisis in the country, triggered by the disputed 2020 presidential elections and the mass protests that followed.

The decision not to invite OSCE observers is the second instance after the 2020 elections where OSCE was unable to observe elections in Belarus. The OSCE has criticized this decision as "deeply regrettable," stating it contradicts the principle of transparency and is against the interests of Belarusian citizens.

US ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, criticized the lack of fairness in Belarus' elections since 1994, describing it as "another sign of the Lukashenka regime's unprecedented repression." Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, now in exile, called the decision "a desperate attempt by the regime to legitimize itself" and urged the international community to condemn the "farce."

After the conclusion of the parliamentary and local elections, a new state body, the All-Belarusian People's Assembly, will be formed, as reported by Euronews. This assembly will have broad powers, including drafting legislation and appointing members of the election commission and judges. The president of Belarus automatically becomes a member of this assembly after stepping down.

Belarus has come under international criticism for its refusal to allow international observers to attend the upcoming parliamentary elections. This decision violates the country's obligations as a member of the OSCE and raises questions about the legitimacy and transparency of the elections. At the same time, domestic political repression is intensifying, as evidenced by the new law on religion and the restriction of political diversity in the country. The international community, including the Belarusian opposition in exile, condemns these steps and calls for greater openness and democratic reforms in Belarus.

OSCE

U.S. Mission to the OSCE

Belarus Embassy Vienna