Authorities to amend the electoral system to safeguard the political system
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.
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.