Minsk hopes for limited recognition of new parliament by EU
Minsk has shown readiness for a dialogue with the EU in the parliamentary dimension. As the travel ban on Lukashenka has been lifted, he is no longer regarding parliamentary cooperation as a threat to his rule. This, however, does not mean that the Belarusian government is ready to allow the opposition in the parliament, rather hopes for a loyal attitude of the EU to the new Parliament.
Last week, the House of Representatives hosted a round table on electoral standards and improving the electoral process in Belarus.
Recently, Minsk not only has boosted official contacts with Western capitals and European institutions on electoral issues, but also regarded the possibility to organise events with the participation of European and Belarusian parliamentary structures in Belarus. The Belarusian regime considered inappropriate that the Belarusian parliament resumed contacts with the EU before the president did so. Incidentally, now that the ban on Lukashenka and the government contacts with the EU has been lifted, the parliamentary interaction is no longer regarded as a threat to the presidential power.
For instance, Belarusian parliamentarians, the Central Election Commission members, independent human rights defenders from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, opposition leaders Tatsiana Karatkevich and Andrei Dmitriev from Tell the Truth! campaign took part in the round table with the PACE and EU delegations held in the House of Representatives in Belarus. The round table addressed the changes in the election rules and the likelihood of interaction between the PACE and of the National Assembly.
In addition, the Belarusian centre-right opposition coalition in Minsk organised a joint roundtable with MEPs from the European People’s Party (EPP), which was attended by most Belarusian oppositional party leaders. The European Parliament delegation also met with the Central Election Commission leadership to discuss the parliamentary campaign. It is worth noting that thanks to the EPP leadership, in late 2015 the centre-right position coalition was established in Belarus.
As the parliamentary cooperation with the EU resumes, the Belarusian authorities demonstrate to Western capitals their greater openness to a dialogue with the opposition and civil society. Simultaneously, Minsk reserves the right to choose partners among the opposition for participation in the Belarusian-European dialogue.
In all likelihood, the authorities aim to enhance the fragmentation and conflicts among the opposition groups before the election campaign starts. By doing so, the authorities seek to significantly reduce the opposition’s influence on the Belarusian-European agenda.
Meanwhile, the promotion of parliamentary contacts is unlikely to increase the authorities’ readiness to risk during the upcoming elections to the National Assembly. CEC head Yarmoshyna emphasised that of the 30 proposals by the OSCE/ODIHR, 22 require constitutional and law amendments. The Central Election Commission said that it would attempt to take into account the recommendations of international organizations when preparing handbooks for the members of the election commissions. The authorities are likely to apply micromanagement in the upcoming parliamentary campaign and in liberalising social and political life, which will depend on the pressure from Western partners, the opposition activity and the growth of protest manifestations in society.
The Belarusian government is aspiring for partial recognition of the new Parliament by the European institutions, however without changing the fundamental rules.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.