Authorities ready to relax grip on domestic politics during local elections

April 22, 2016 18:42

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.

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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.