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.
The Belarusian authorities could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.