How to make a local referendum in Belarus
Ondřej, Belarus, 29 August 2018
According to Belarusian legislation, local referendum exists in order to address key issues for local population belonging to particular administrative-territorial units corresponding to relevant councils, executive and administrative bodies.
Subject + Entitled participants
According to the law “the main stakeholders” are the relevant local councils, executive and administrative bodies. Key issues for local population belonging to particular administrative-territorial units corresponding to relevant councils, executive and administrative bodies can be submitted to a local referendum.
According to Part 1 of Article 126 of the Electoral Code, two subjects are entitled to initiate the implementation of LR:
- Local representative bodies represented by local Councils of Deputies;
- At least 10 % of the citizens of the Republic of Belarus permanently residing in the territory of the relevant region, district, city or village..
Despite the fact that the issue of local referenda in such case is better to approach from the theoretical-scientific approach, we do a list of seven important steps:
- Creating initiative group. According to Part 2 of Article 126 of the Electoral Code, the initial stage on the way to a local referendum is the formation of an initiative group of persons entitled to participate in a referendum in the amount of:
- In the region and the city of Minsk - no less than 50 persons;
- In the district, town, or district of the city - no less than 20 persons;
- In a village - at least 10 persons.
At the meeting on the creation of the initiative group, more than 50 % of citizens who have agreed to join should be present.
The question (draft decision), which is submitted to the referendum, should be formulated clearly and has no double meaning in order for receive clear response.
Signatures of all members of initiative group, including their name, first name, patronymic name, place of residence, year of birth, passport number must be notarized.
It is not hard to do the first step. It is necessary to do the initial advertising campaign in social networks and online media to attract a relatively small number of people really interested in dealing with the issue. Even the issue with notarized signatures can only filter out random people, but will not spot really interested enthusiasts.
2. Requesting the registration of the initiative group. After the preparation of all necessary documents, the head of the initiative group sends an application to the corresponding Executive Committee requesting registration of the initiative group and the issue proposed for the referendum.
3.Compliance. The regional (Minsk city) justice department issues an opinion on the compliance of the issue proposed for referendum with the requirements of the law; as well as opinions on the compliance of the legislation with the steps taken to create the initiative group.
4. Registration. After receiving positive conclusions from the judiciary, within 30 days from the day of the initiative group's application for registration, the respective local executive committee registers the initiative group and issue proposed for the local referendum. This means that the Executive Committee issues a certificate of registration to the initiative group (leader of the group), a sample of the signature sheets, and the members of the initiative group get their credentials.
If the local Executive Committee refuses to register the initiative group of the referendum, you can make an appeal to the district or city court within one month (Part 6, Article 126 of the Electoral Code). It is not clear why, but among the listed options in part 6 of Art. 126 of the Electoral Code there are no references to the regional courts.
Re-initiation of a referendum by citizens on the same issue is allowed not earlier than one year after the rejection of the proposal for a referendum and not earlier than three years after the referendum on this issue (Part 14, Article 116 of the Electoral Code).
Collecting signatures. At this stage, the initiative group collects signatures of at least 10% of the citizens of the Republic of Belarus permanently residing on the territory of the relevant region, district, city, district in the city or village. Only members of the initiative group can collect signatures.
Particularly at this stage, you will need the whole arsenal of means of interaction with the population and civil servants. It is necessary to think about who might be interested in this campaign and work hard to get them involved.
The quality of the work and publicity will have significant value and it will influences the decision on whether the initiative for a local referendum will be blocked during two following steps.
6. Verification. The Executive Committee has 10 days for verification of collection the required number of valid signatures. If the Executive Committee verifies the required number of signatures based on the results of the audit, the initiative group draws up the final act on the collection of signatures and passes it to the relevant executive committee, which is obliged to send this act to the local Council of Deputies.
7. Decision. The decision on the appointment of the local referendum (district, city, village) according to part 1 of the Article 127 of the Electoral Code must be adopted at the session of the local Council of Deputies no later than 30 days after the Executive Committee sends this proposal.
The date of the referendum is determined by the local Council of Deputies no later than three months after the date of issue of the decision to held a referendum. The decision of the local Council of Deputies to appoint a referendum is published in press and other mass media.
Financing - who is supposed to pay the costs of LR.
All financial expenses related to the preparation and implementation of the referendum (except for expenses related to the formation and operation of referendum commissions on the day of voting and the preparation of final documents) are the responsibility of the initiators of the referendum, i.e. the initiative group. After 2013, financing of these expenses should be carried out in accordance with Article 128 of the Electoral Code solely at the expense of the funds of the initiative group.
The referendum is deemed to be valid if more than half of the citizens included in the lists of citizens entitled to participate in the referendum participated in the voting. The decision is considered to be taken by a referendum, if more than half of the citizens who participated in the voting voted for it. Decisions adopted by referendum can be canceled or changed only by referendum, unless otherwise determined by referendum.
If the implementation of a decision adopted by a referendum requires the issuance of a legal act, it must be adopted within five months from the date of the entry into force of the decision adopted by the referendum.
Effectiveness and usefulness
The whole procedure is unnecessarily complicated and some steps are redundant. One can say, that in V4 countries the steps 1-5 fall into one procedure smoothly.
What is “the key issue” - in other countries we see, that the subjects of referenda are defined in rather a “negative” manner. That means, they define the topics, which are prohibited to be questioned. This consequently means, that all the other public matters (which falls under the jurisdiction of local governance) are allowed. Our positive way of defining “the key issue of local people” gives rather big power to authorities to dismiss the registration.
What is discouraging, is the costs of holding the LR. We see that in V4 countries these are considered tools of local governance, therefore paid from the budgets of local executive branches.
The LRA is well established in our Electoral code, and we shall try both, asking for its simplification in order to make LR easier to be organized and try to organize LR anyways, since even the unsuccessful LR creates a strong PR for public topics, creates strong community and starts the dialog on public issues between the citizens and authorities.
It should be noted, that the law does not give an answer to the question whether the local Council of Deputies has the right not to set a date for the referendum, providing that the initiative group successfully passed all previous stages, in other words, fulfilled all legal requirements.
Most likely, if the initiative group did their work well and the issue got enough publicity, even after a rejection it is possible to continue the fight in another form, for example, to start the preparation for a local assembly or think about making collective appeal, which will be discussed later. Another option will be to keep the initiative group for the next local or republican elections, so that the raised issue will be carried out by more candidates.