Belarusian authorities introduce some competition and uncertainty in electoral process

August 17, 2016 11:09

The Belarusian authorities have somewhat reduced campaigning participants in number in order to preserve control over the election process, but nevertheless allowed high competition for parliamentary seats to ensure high turnout. The Belarusian leadership is aiming for a well-handled competition among the opposition and candidates from pro-governmental political parties and nomenclature. Presumably, the authorities have left room for some intrigue in the election campaign in order to step up their positions in negotiations with the west.

521 candidates will compete for seats in the lower chamber of the Belarusian National Assembly of the sixth convocation.

During the candidates’ registration process, the most careful screening of potential candidates to the parliament was in the regions. Election participants from the opposition have marked a substantial increase in those dissatisfied with the authorities’ socio-economic policy in Belarusian regions and district centres. Most likely, the Central Election Commission has given some leeway to local election organizers, depending on local context. In some regions, local election commissions were stricter when screening candidates for further participation in the campaign.

In Minsk, the authorities have not registered the most resonant and undesirable candidates, who were annoyingly critical of them or used non-conventional ways to collect signatures. For example, the election officials have not registered lieutenant colonel of militia in reserve Nikolay Kozlov from the United Civic Party and political analyst Ales Lahviniec from the For Freedom movement.

Some independent analysts have noted, that the authorities increased the chances for some moderate opposition representatives with nationalistic-cultural background to win parliamentary seats. For instance, in the constituencies, where candidates included representatives of the Belarusian Language Society Aleh Trusau and Alena Anisim, the authorities have not registered major contenders from the nomenclature. Yet the issue with the registration of former presidential candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich from the Tell the Truth campaign as a candidate has not been resolved. The final decision on registering opposition candidates to the parliament is likely to be pending at the highest level.

Apparently, the authorities have introduced some elements of competition among nomenclature candidates for parliament. In some districts in Mogilev, Brest and Grodno regions and in Minsk, the authorities have registered nomenclature candidates who have equal political weight. Everything suggests that the authorities are probing the elements of ‘managed democracy’ and introducing an additional layer in the Belarusian political system.

By introducing elements of competition and some unpredictability in the election process, the Belarusian authorities are hoping for a positive feedback from Western observers.

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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.