Authorities ready to relax grip on domestic politics during local elections

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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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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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