Belarusian authorities may stretch party representation in new Parliament
The Belarusian authorities have launched a media campaign in the state-run media to promote party building, which, in their opinion, could contribute to creating a favourable background in negotiations with Western capitals. Media coverage and the removal of some informal restrictions on party activities have boosted activity of political organisations in the elections. Party representation in the new parliament is likely to somewhat increase thanks to parties loyal to the authorities in order to demonstrate progress in the election process and political reforms to the EU and the US.
The Central Election Commission has registered 445 initiative groups of potential candidates, which means, current competition is 4.5 persons per seat in the parliament.
In the past twenty years, with every parliamentary campaign, political party representation only decreased: the current parliament only has 5 deputies (of 110) representing pro-governmental party organisations - the Communist Party of Belarus (3), the Republican Party of Labour and Justice (1), and the Belarusian Agrarian Party (1).
The state media has boosted coverage of party activity during the ongoing parliamentary campaign and raised the issue of strengthening the political parties’ role in the political system. Some official sources have published articles about perspectives for a new model of party life in Belarus.
Political party representatives make about one third (36%) among nominees though collecting signatures: 159 of 445 registered initiative groups. That said, the number of party nominees is likely to increase after parties hold congresses to nominate their candidates. Compared with the previous parliamentary elections, some political parties are likely to nominate twice as many candidates: Fair World - 60 (32 in 2012), and the Belarusian Popular Front - 70 (33 in 2012).
Pro-governmental political parties have stepped up their political activity too. Nine parties have nominated their representatives to local commissions, and 12 to district commissions. The most active are the Communists (the CPB) and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice, loyal to the authorities and the Fair World leftist opposition party. Previously, parties were only nominating their representatives to the election commissions and as observers.
The trend has started to change with the presidential election in 2015, when the leader of the pro-governmental Belarusian Patriotic Party was registered as a presidential candidate. The Belarusian Patriotic Party, led by former presidential candidate Ulakhovich and the Belarusian Republican Party of Labour and Justice (both loyal to the authorities) have nominated 20 (0 in 2012) and 23 (19 in 2012) candidates respectively, through party meetings.
The fact, that the Belarusian Patriotic Party has stepped up its role, is likely to reduce chances for Belaya Rus to transform into a political party. That said, during the previous ‘thaw’ in Belarusian-European relations, nomenclature attempted to seize the opportunity to strengthen its role and create a party of power. The president, however, prevented Belaya Rus from becoming a political force as he regarded it as a clear threat to his rule.
Nevertheless, amid lingering economic recession and the lack of a consistent bail-out plan, the Belarusian nomenclature is likely to attempt to institutionalise as a political party in order to defend its vested interests. Now, the nomenclature is struggling for dwindling state resources behind-the-scenes. Sometimes the conflict spills out in the public space in the form of corruption charges against some representatives of losing nomenclature groups, or requires personal intervention of President Lukashenka.
Belarus’ senior management is likely to demonstrate progress in the election process and political reforms to the Western observers by strengthening party representation in the parliament with loyal and ‘constructive’ party representatives from the CPB, the RPLJ, the BPP and LDPB.
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.