Belarusian authorities to filter out candidates supporting "Russian World" in Parliamentary Elections
Regardless of the Central Electoral Commission’s liberal rhetoric, the Belarusian leadership has confirmed that the election campaign would be held in compliance with the current practices and with the use of administrative resources. The Belarusian authorities will introduce additional filters to prevent radical supporters of the ‘Russian World’ from making it into the Parliament, which may also be used as an additional argument in preserving the dynamics of the Belarusian-European dialogue. The Belarusian authorities’ baseline scenario is unlikely to envisage any opposition representatives in the new Parliament.
The meeting with President Lukashenka in preparation for the upcomingParliamentary elections has resulted in a task to elaborate criteria for the state support for the candidates regardless of their political views.
The Belarusian authorities have announced a thorough selection process for deputy candidates, envisaging compliance with ten selection criteria. The president has previously announced some of the criteria and the other would be new in this election campaign. In addition, the Belarusian leadership is concerned that the election organisers may be somewhat disoriented due to the improved contacts with Western capitals and some concessions made to the EU, albeit formal, in holding the parliamentary campaign.
Interestingly, the Belarusian leadership is putting a particular emphasis on the loyalty of future MPs to the Belarusian state and it is likely to filter out radical supporters of unification with Russia. The president noted that the candidates would be put through a loyalty test: "No one would argue that one of the criteria for a future parliamentary candidate must be the independence of our state".
That said, since the beginning of his presidential career, Lukashenka has vastly drawn upon supporters of close integration with Russia. Prior to the crisis in Ukraine, ‘Western Russia’ ideologues, who believe that the Belarusian state is a historical error and who question the very existence of the Belarusian nation, have had a noticeable influence in the presidential administration and the elected bodies.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to take precaution measures in order to close even pro forma potential for using hybrid methods in Belarus, which could exacerbate political conflicts, create imbalances in the government and lead to a governance crisis. Minsk is very likely to take into account Kyiv’s negative experience in confronting with pro-Russian separatists in Crimea and the Donbass, which has led to territorial losses largely due to the Kremlin’s agents of influence in the Ukrainian legislative bodies.
For instance, during the Crimean crisis, leader of the ‘Russian Unity’ marginal pro-Russian party, Aksenov, has played a crucial role in the Russia’s accession of the Crimea. That said, in the 2010 elections to the Supreme Council of Crimea, the ‘Russian Unity’ party, which stood for the union with Russia, gained only 4.02% of the vote and had only three of 100 deputies in the Crimean Parliament.
President Lukashenka is equally afraid of the Parliament’s transformation into a discussion platform open for alternative views on the state’s future development. Analysts have long marked the presence of supporters of market and liberal reforms in the president’s circle and the government. Hence, the president outlined yet another criterion for future candidates to comply with, which would enhance the conservative’s positions - the support for the existing socio-economic model: "Another criterion will be the aspiration to improve people’s welfare while avoiding radical incomprehensible shock reforms to the people’s detriment”.
In addition, President Lukashenka emphasised the equal treatment of parliamentary candidates, regardless of their political views, but with some reservations: "It does not matter what political forces they will represent. The main thing is that they are honest and decent people”.
However, the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to give their opponents a chance to win seats in the country’s supreme legislative body and to use the Parliament as a platform for self-promotion. Some analysts have pointed out that by making it look like a fight against the ‘Russian World’, Minsk is only attempting to remove obstacles in relations with the West regarding restrictions on the opposition’s full-fledged participation in the parliamentary campaign.
The Belarusian authorities anticipate holding the Parliamentary Elections in accordance with the established practice and their full control over the voting results.
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.