Authorities ready to relax grip on domestic politics during local elections
The Belarusian government is prepared to relax its grip on the domestic political environment during the local elections. However, this does not imply they will let the opposition into local councils. The population will hardly notice the upcoming local elections due to their traditionally low profile in state propaganda and because the opposition is focusing on preparations for the presidential elections. In addition, there is no threshold for voter turnout in local elections.
Central Election Commission Secretary Nikolai Lozovik said that the electoral campaign in Belarus’ local councils would kick off before December 24th, 2013.
Representation of opposition parties in local governments reduces with each electoral cycle. In 2010, the least number of Deputies from the opposition won seats in local governments, even though elections were held during the ‘thaw’ in Belarus-EU relations and following amendments to the Electoral Code.
In 2013, the Electoral Code was amended once again but these amendments did not even aim at receiving positive feedback from international observers. During local elections in 2014, the Belarusian leadership will, as usual, do a ‘test drive’ of the amendments in anticipation of the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
Last week president Lukashenko sent a signal to the EU in order to slightly smooth over Belarus-EU relations. He softened his tone when talking about the opposition: "We should treat this stage in development of our country seriously. The point is that the situation is challenging and our - let’s call them ‘alternative’ politicians so as not to upset their foreign sponsors – are counting a lot on this period”.
Ahead of the local elections, the opposition parties do not plan any serious confrontations and most plan to take part in the local elections. These election results will help the opposition to define the largest opposition structures, which will influence the selection of a ‘single candidate’. Simultaneously, the “People’s referendum” initiators plan to start consolidating the plebiscite’s supporters.
External factors have forced the authorities to relax their domestic policy during the local elections. Presumably, they will combine ad hoc repressions with more relaxed rhetoric about the opposition. However, rhetoric aside, representation of the opposition in the government will not increase.
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.