Bargaining for political reform in Belarus continues

April 22, 2016 18:10

On May 8 while delivering the State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly, the President said that the draft project for the introduction of the proportional majority electoral system had been prepared long ago. He pointed out that he personally did not approve of the reform but would not object to following the “world’s experience” on the subject.

President Lukashenko is fully aware that the Belarusian governing establishment and Western political counterparts of the Republic of Belarus are very much concerned with the transition to a proportional electoral system in the upcoming parliamentary election. Within the Republic of Belarus, the issue presents interest for the officials and deputies, representing the QUANGO \"Belaya Rus\". They have repeatedly expressed their willingness to be transformed into a political party.

Therefore, in 2011-2012 before elections to the National Assembly, Alexander Lukashenko regularly turns to the subject that allows him to bargain with regional and local elites over the formation of the parliament, as well as issues of regional governing. At the same time, his promise to possibly reform the political system also allows to maintain a standby dialogue with the EU.

However, the electoral reform which is expected to increase the role of political parties in shaping the external and internal policy of Belarus, does not comply with Lukashenko’s personal interests.

Therefore, the head of the state is actively promoting the Investigation Committee established in 2012 as an alternative platform which can be used to balance the interests within the state.

Nominally, the Investigation Committee is a law enforcement agency which is entitled to conduct a preliminary investigation. But it, in fact, must perform a more significant managerial role: to function as an arbiter in disputes arising between the elites. Therefore, in his State of the Nation Address, the president mentioned the positive role of the Investigation Committee in the fight against corruption and \"racketeering\" business by other law enforcement agencies.

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Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.

The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.

The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.

Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.

President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.

Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.