Opposition and authorities start preparations for local elections in 2018
The authorities aim to depoliticise society before the 2017/2018 electoral campaign, while the opposition only starts developing the agenda for the local elections. During the upcoming elections, the Belarusian authorities are likely to use a combined approach, i.e. to demotivate supporters of the opposition and ensure maximum turnout of the loyal electorate. In addition, amid attempts to normalise relations with western capitals, the authorities could allow better representation of political parties in elected bodies.
Belarusian political parties lack a common agenda for the local elections, and most of the opposition is distracted by the Russia-led joint military exercises Zapad-2017. As the exercises draw to an end, tension between the supporters of a boycott and those willing to participate in the election campaign could deteriorate. That said, the majority of the opposition political parties with developed regional structures plan to participate in the upcoming elections and nominate their candidates. Some organisations could attempt to lower barriers and engage many new activists with no experience in politics and who had not been nominated earlier.
Loyal political parties are likely to boost their activity too, especially in Minsk and large cities, and could win more seats in elected bodies. Perhaps, the authorities' refusal to implement previously announced changes to the electoral code could be offset by somewhat enhancing the role of parties and developing the party system in Belarus.
Yet the Belarusian leadership has not made a final decision about the scenario for the new electoral cycle, which will start in 2018 with local elections. The Central Election Commission head, Lidia Yarmoshina, emphasised, that the parliamentary and the presidential campaigns, which coincide in time in 2020, would be held separately. Indirectly, her statement refuted rumours about the possible combination of the local elections with a referendum to extend Lukashenka’s powers and reset his fifth term as the president.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.