Belarusian authorities improve transparency of election procedures but disable control from opposition

August 17, 2016 10:46
Image: Jauhieni Jerchak, TUT.BY

The Belarusian leadership has combined a formal greater procedural transparency with excluding the opposition from having any control over the voting results. Apparently, in order to preserve the positive dynamics in the Belarusian-European relations, the authorities are likely to be satisfied if international observers recognise a limited progress in the upcoming election campaign. Despite greater procedural transparency, mainly aimed at western observers, the Belarusian authorities will preserve the usual election practices.

The Belarusian authorities decided not to allow the opposition to participate in organising the elections, while they could demonstrate substantial progress and allow some opposition members to the vote count. Currently, opposition members in precinct election commissions across the country, like in all recent elections, make a negligible 0.1%.

Opposition members, who were selected to the election commissions, will perform their duties in areas with high government approval ratings, strong pro-government candidates and an expected high turnout. Election officials have not allowed a single opposition representative in election districts with strong opposition nominees to the Parliament.

That said, the authorities have allowed more opposition party representatives in the election commissions, who in one way or another associate with the power system. For example, yet since the Soviet era former communists from the Fair World party have preserved their connections with the local authorities and they are the least likely to confront their ‘counterparts’ in a conflict situation.

Simultaneously, the authorities continue using pro-government parties to fill in legislative quotas for public association in the election commissions. However, non-partisan pro-government candidates are under instruction to show greater publicity and contact with the voters during elections, especially in the capital. Most likely, this is due to the need to step up propaganda work in regions with low ratings of the authorities, rather than the fear of non-performing the official election results. Having Western observers in mind, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to create an atmosphere of competitive elections without predetermined results.

The Belarusian authorities are balancing between ensuring the transparency of the electoral process and not allowing the opposition to have any control over the election organisers.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.