Belarus wants to make elections more transparent for observers and safer for opposition
The Belarusian authorities said the election process would be more transparent for the international observers as they hoped the latter would recognise some progress in the electoral process. With this in mind, the authorities are unlikely to use brute force against their opponents as in December 2010, which however does not mean they would not use ad hoc repressions in order to preserve the overall ‘stability’ in the background of the campaign. In addition, the authorities are unlikely to allow the sharpest critics of Lukashenka to become presidential candidates, in particular, if the level of tension in society elevates to a critical point.
In an interview with the ONT TV Channel, Central Election Commission Head Lidiya Yermoshina said that the initiative to hold the presidential elections on October 11th belonged to her. She also said the main reason why the elections date had been shifted to an earlier date was due to her concern over voters and international observers: "...the situation, so to speak, has changed so as the opinion. And since it all fits in the same timeframe, there is no question of early elections. It was therefore decided that mid-October would be the most favourable time, less depressing; more pleasant for the international observers to visit the country from the weather viewpoint. November is the time of autumn blues, chronic diseases”.
It is worth noting that President Lukashenka has repeatedly stated that the elections will be conducted in accordance with the electoral calendar. He does not want any deviations from the pre-announced schedule to have any negative impact on his ratings or voters’ economic expectations. Previously, the CEC head said the most likely date for the elections was November 15th, however, in mid-June she proposed an earlier date – October 11th. The Parliament will consider the matter at its next session on June 30th.
Meanwhile, the international observers are unlikely to care about the ‘weather’ during the elections. The most logical explanation for shifting the elections date could be that the authorities wanted to leave room for holding the second round of elections. The Belarusian leadership must have some grounds to anticipate a positive assessment of elections by the international observers and some progress in the organisation of the electoral process. CEC Chairman Yermoshyna said that Belarus would invite observers from the CIS, OSCE and PACE. Moreover, she also said that there would be no restrictions on the number of observers. In addition, President Lukashenka at the meeting with OSCE Secretary General Zannier and ODIHR Director Linke said the attitude towards the international observers would be the most loyal: "Please, think that we have invited all your representatives who you believe should come to observe the election process".
Simultaneously, the authorities have reserved the right to restrict participation of alternative candidates. Should the economic problems deteriorate thus increasing protest moods in society, the CEC may use formal grounds not to register the harshest critics of the president as candidates. In particular, Yermoshina said, "Those who will get on the ballots, quite possibly, will be more balanced."
The authorities’ attempt to demonstrate greater transparency of the election process creates certain difficulties for the opposition leaders – harsh critics of the regime who count on non-recognition of the elections by the international observers. In particular, from the "Coalition for Non-recognition" Anatoly Lyabedzka, the United Civic Party leader and Sergey Kalyakin, ‘Fair World’ party Chairman, have already declared their intention to run for presidency.
The Belarusian authorities expect to avoid excessive brutality against the opposition, hoping that the international observers would recognise some progress in the election process. However, they might still use ad hoc repressions against most radical opposition candidates in order to preserve ‘stability’ of the socio-economic environment during the campaign.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.