Belarusian authorities create environment for some political competition
The Belarusian leadership has altered the Parliament’s structure, but preserved the continuity and balance among representatives from the state apparatus and different economic and social sectors. The new parliament is slightly younger than the previous one, with somewhat reduced influence of the farmers. Apparently, the authorities have started using political engineering in an attempt to create a prototype of a new party system in Belarus.
Continuity in the new parliament has somewhat increased, albeit the usual ‘presidential’ quota has been preserved - almost one quarter of deputies remained in the parliament. The legislative body became somewhat younger - average age of MPs was 50 years old (53 in 2012). Perhaps some rejuvenation of the House of Representatives may lead to greater initiative and competition among deputies in the fight for parliamentary seats in the future.
The authorities seek to preserve the parliament’s structure and balance among representatives from all sectors involved in the state budget allocation: healthcare, education, industry, security forces, military, state-run media, sport and culture, trade unions, local authorities and farmers. Thanks to such parliament representation, the Belarusian authorities are able to relieve tension and discontent while distributing the dwindling public resources.
The agricultural lobby is losing its influence on the allocation of public resources. There are fewer representatives of the agro-industrial economic sector in the new composition of the parliament. That said, the draft budget for 2017 envisages reductions in expenditures for agriculture by almost one quarter. Once influential, Agrarian Party has not won a single seat in the parliament while in the previous convocation it had one MP who represented the interests of farmers.
Sixteen deputies in the new parliament represent five political parties out of 15 registered. Belaya Rus quango won 68 seats as compared with 63 in 2012.
Apparently, the parliamentary parties may begin the formation of a new party system in Belarus. The Belarusian government sees the dominance of ideas of social justice and paternalism in Belarusian society, hence the representation in the parliament: eight representatives of the Communist Party, three from the Republican Party of Labour and Justice and three from the Belarusian Patriotic Party. Liberal ideas in their view are not so popular among Belarusians, which is confirmed by only two seats in the parliament - one for the oppositional United Civic Party and the other one for the loyal Liberal Democratic Party.
The Belarusian leadership leaves a free niche for a centrist party, which could be claimed by the functionaries from the Belaya Rus quango.
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.