Fifteen European Humanities University (EHU) students have joined a group of more than 100 election observers in Belarus. Their effort is part of “Election Observation: Theory and Practice,” a project jointly implemented by EHU, Belarus Watch, and Belarusian Human Rights House. The group is currently observing the Belarusian parliamentary elections. The results of the observation campaign will be announced at a press conference Tuesday, September 25 in Vilnius.
Students report that, despite the foreseeable results of the elections, they feel they have the power to bring about change in Belarus, even in small ways.
“Students who participate in the election observation project really try to change something, and the project shows them some things they could change,” says EHU’s low-residence student involved in election observation. According to him, students feel that intimidation at polling stations decreases when election observers are present, thus contributing to fairer elections..
Observers closely monitor the electoral process at more than 60 polling stations in Minsk and in all regional centers during early voting and on Election Day, Sunday, September 23.
Thus far, student-observers report that the main issues they face are fraudulent voter-turnout reports and “forced” voting.
“In Minsk at one time, observers counted 6 voters had showed up to vote, but the election commission reported 66 voters. In other places, the commission’s report on turnout was 5—10 times higher.
Some Belarusian university students have been informed that they may face problems during exams or will not be allocated dorm rooms if they fail to vote, states an observer who requested anonymity.
Project coordinators say they hope this experience will teach them to understand the democratic electoral process and how to spot voting violations. They estimate the number of independent observers in Belarus at 3,000.
“Election Observation: Theory and Practice” enables EHU students to gain first-hand insights into the organization of elections and understand what a free and democratic electoral process entails. This nonpartisan educational project promotes independent public oversight of government activities and civic activism.