Authorities gear up for election campaign

April 22, 2016 18:40

Lukashenko released Colonel-General Leonid Maltsev (he was the State Secretary of the Security Council) from office and appointed him as State Border Committee Chairman.

Lukashenko is gearing up for the 2015 presidential campaign with a staff reshuffle. Whoever occupies the position of the Security Council State Secretary will determine the scenario for the upcoming presidential election. Maltsev’s appointment as the Border Committee Chairman should improve Lukashenko’s control over this body.

Former Secretary of the Security Council Leonid Maltsev was appointed to his position one year before the presidential election - in December 2009. He was in charge of organizing and conducting Lukashenko’s election campaign.

The conditions in which the next presidential election will be held may be much less favourable for Lukashenko. The growing economic crisis might seriously undermine the president’s approval rating. In addition, the agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union is scheduled for signature on the eve of elections. Further integration with Russia threatens Lukashenko’s position and might once again complicate Russo-Belarusian relations. In 2010, Russia carried out a media-attack on president Lukashenko and forced him to sign a package of integration treaties in exchange for the Kremlin’s support.

Lukashenko’s circle of loyal officials to whom he could entrust the State Security Council has dwindled. The Secretary of State will be responsible for organizing the presidential elections, including guarantees of the loyalty of the army and the law enforcement.

Viktor Sheiman and Viktor Lukashenko are considered the most likely candidates to fill this position. In October 2010 Lukashenko brought Sheiman back from exile. Sheiman, Lukashenko’s former ‘eminence grise’ has his own loyal team from many years ago. As the role of the law enforcement bodies strengthens in Belarusian politics, and the Kremlin’s pressure increases, Lukashenko might need to expand Sheiman’s powers as ‘security forces’ supervisor’. Another highly suitable candidate to fill this position is Lukashenko’s eldest son, Viktor Lukashenko.

In turn, Maltsev’s appointment as Border Committee Chairman could be linked with Lukashenko’s need to have greater control over this body in connection with the World Hockey Championship in 2014. Recently, the Border Committee has regularly featured in the news for unpleasant reasons. In 2012 the Lithuanian border guards reported a 60% increase in trespassers compared with 2011 – most of them from Belarus. After Igor Rachkovsky’s dismissal following the ‘teddy bear drop’ in 2012, the Border Committee experienced increased problems with management.

President Lukashenko started staff reshuffles in the security forces in connection with the upcoming election campaign in 2015. Staff reshuffles in other security agencies should also be anticipated.

Depending on the circumstances, the presidential elections might be held ahead of schedule.

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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.