Authorities to amend the electoral system to safeguard the political system

April 22, 2016 18:35

On August 6th President Lukashenko held a meeting to discuss possible amendments to the Belarus’ electoral legislation.

The ruling group is eager to preserve the existing electoral system and control over the elections. Simultaneously, the authorities seek to increase the election participants’ loyalty by introducing organizational and financial incentives, which however might complicate the control over the electoral process.

Original Electoral reform project, proposed by the Central Elections Commission, has undergone significant changes. In particular, the country’s leadership rejected CEC proposals to abolish village and town Councils of Deputies and to enable candidates’ nomination by non-governmental organizations listing more than 1,000 members. Another proposal - to increase electoral funds and enable their formation at the initiative group’s registration stage - is ‘under discussion’.

Thus, it should be anticipated that the current electoral system will not see ‘revolutionary’ changes as proposed by the CEC. The ruling group assessed them as bearing excessive risks for losing control over the election campaigns. Instead, the government aims at strengthening the existing electoral system and increasing the loyalty of its agents – primarily election commissions’ members, responsible for the elections outcome. The authorities are even prepared to step up the system’s complexity and to take the associated risks.

For instance, local authorities are offered an organizational incentive, i.e. to set up seven additional regional election commissions for the parliamentary elections, which will take over some CEC functions. If adopted, this amendment is likely to raise the elections’ costs: in other words, will increase local budgets and will raise the status of regional commissions’ leaders.

In addition, the authorities are also offering a financial stimulus: election commissions will be granted the right to print campaign materials for candidates (currently candidates themselves print campaign materials using funds provided by the state). If this proposal is adopted, it will make sense for the local commissions’ leaders to register greater number of candidates. For example, printing of the campaign materials is budgeted at 50 basic units (circa USD 560) per candidate in the parliamentary elections. In 2012, 375 candidates were registered, i.e. the overall ‘propaganda’ budget during the parliamentary elections was over USD 200,000.

Apparently, the ruling group is prepared to take these potential risks – elevating the local authorities’ status and encouraging registration of greater number of candidates – in order to increase the election campaign’s budget and, accordingly, the local authorities and election commission members’ loyalty, (since the latter will be responsible for the budget implementation).

The draft amendments to the electoral legislation to be finalized and submitted to the Parliament in late August – early September, CEC representative said. 

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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.