Belarusian authorities bar opposition out from organization of parliamentary elections
The Belarusian authorities have composed territorial and district election commissions of representatives of quangos, pro-government political parties, and government officials with minimal opposition representation. The Belarusian leadership anticipates having full control over the election campaign and its results. The authorities, however, are ready to demonstrate greater transparency in the election process to international observers.
The authorities have formed 110 district and 6149 precinct election commissions, 49 of which outside the country. In seven territorial commissions, 144 persons have been competing for 91 seats and in district - 2014 persons for 1430 seats. On average, the competition ranged from 1.2 persons/seat in the Grodno region to 2 persons/seat in the Mogilev region. Of the overall candidates, the opposition has nominated about 11% in the territorial and 6.7% in the district commissions.
The number of nominees to election commissions from the opposition has somewhat reduced. For instance, this year, opposition parties put forward 150 applications in territorial and district, compared with 199 in 2012 in district commissions only. This could either be due to the overall reduction in the number of activists, or because the opposition has decided to nominate more candidates or to have greater campaigning capacity.
According to human rights defenders, election officials have fine-tuned formal selection procedures. Unlike during previous election campaigns, the selection process for election commission members was more elaborate, in some cases, it included interviews and collegial decisions. Nevertheless, despite all novelties, voting was still a formality. In addition, deputy chairs on ideology from local executive committees are leading many district election commissions. Independent analysts have noted that the composition of election commissions have remained virtually unchanged as compared with the previous presidential election - regardless of more transparent and improved recruitment procedures. That said, the share of opposition representatives in the district election commissions reduced from 3% in 2012 to 1.8% in 2016.
As predicted, among the most common reasons for not selecting applicants from the opposition to the electoral commissions were the administrative record and the lack of positive characteristics from the place of residence or work. In addition to the absence of clear legal selection criteria for election commission members, according to human rights defenders, when considering applicants, officials were clearly more loyal to pro-government candidates.
Exclusion rate for opposition candidates in election commissions remains very high compared with the pro-government contenders - 31.2% at territorial level and 19.4% at the district level.
The total share of political parties representatives (opposition and pro-government) in the election commissions (24.2% in territorial and 13.6% in district commissions) is much smaller than of public associations (51% and 54.3%, respectively).
In addition, CEC head Lydia Yarmoshina promised to come back to the issue of greater transparency during the vote count after the parliamentary elections. Which means, that the vote counting practice widely criticised by domestic and international observers will be preserved during the upcoming parliamentary elections: “the commissions will not demonstrate each ballot while counting. To do this, the law needs to be amended, because the counting procedure is spelled out there”.
Overall, improvements in the formal selection procedures and greater transparency in the selection process has not enhanced the opposition representation in the election commissions. The Belarusian authorities rather aim to hold the upcoming election campaign in compliance with the current practice, using administrative resources in order to ensure the required turnout and support for pro-government candidates.
Image: Jauhien Jerčak, TUT.BY
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.