Authorities’ symmetrical response to the opposition
Yermoshina proposed introducing a law against campaigning for an elections boycott in response to calls by some opposition parties to boycott the elections. The authorities seek to preserve their position as both a player and the referee in the election campaigns.
On September 13th Chairman of the Central Elections Committee Yermoshina proposed to introduce a law that bans campaigning for an elections boycott.
Yermoshina’s initiative to ban campaigning for a boycott by law is an extension of semi-formal measures against the boycott supporters. Previously, the Media Supervisory Board for the election campaign under the Central Election Committee recommended not broadcasting speeches of candidates who called for a boycott, and the Central Election Committee, in turn, upheld the recommendation.
Despite the legal dubiousness of this proposal (lawyers say it would be in violation of the Belarusian Electoral Code), the authorities are not interested in having such a ‘vulnerability’ in the electoral law. It is therefore likely that Yermoshina’s proposal will be supported in the Presidential Administration and Deputies at a later stage and the ban on campaigning for the boycott will be formalized as the Electoral Code amendment.
The Central Elections Committee is responding to the attempts of some opposition parties to boycott the campaign. In particular, at the end of the week it was reported that the Belarusian Popular Front and the United Civic Party would withdraw their candidates, previously registered by the CEC, before the vote (i.e. before September 18th, when early voting begins.) The authorities are not only trying to save face, but also to tighten the rules of the election campaigns for political forces. If successful, the room for independent and non-actions of the opposition, such as the boycott, will be even more limited.
Finally, Yermoshina’s initiative also envisages significant restrictions on the election media campaign. In particular, it is proposed to limit the number of individual performances by candidates, as they look too “static” and are costly for media budgets, and to introduce more interactive forms: talk shows, debates, etc. In reality, this will lead to an overall reduction of opportunities for candidates to have individual performances in the electronic media, and will increase collective participation.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.