Belarusian authorities show little interest in higher turnout
The Belarusian authorities seek to keep the elections low-profile by censoring some critical speeches by opposition candidates and reducing candidates in number. In addition to organisational and financial constraints, the state media’s main task is to prevent politicisation of society. That said, the authorities are likely to ensure the turnout by early voting, especially given there is no threshold.
The authorities continued to reduce competition for the parliamentary seats by withdrawing some loyal candidates from pro-governmental parties and nomenclature. Apparently, initially high competition was due to the authorities’ desire to test if there were enough pro-government party candidates to replace the opposition and to steal some votes from the opposition candidates.
Due to financial constraints, the campaigning stage will last only two to three weeks. The candidates will be required to complete some formal, time and human resource-consuming procedures to register proxies, to coordinate campaigning venues, opening bank accounts, fundraising and printing campaigning materials. Candidates have very modest opportunities for campaigning on the national TV - only five minutes and five minutes more if there is a debate. In addition, there has been almost no coverage of the upcoming elections (up to 2% of the broadcast) and personalities of the candidates have been ignored completely. That said, candidates’ speeches on TV would not be uploaded on the Internet, unlike in 2012 and in 2015.
Censorship of candidates’ speeches has not been harsh by the Belarusian standard, however, it has occurred when candidates raised topical issues, such as the NPP construction. Compared with pro-governmental candidates, the opposition candidates appear more competent, including campaigning skills, speeches, leaflets, pickets and other campaigning materials, which could explain the authorities’ desire to keep the elections as low profile as possible with minimal media coverage.
The authorities are likely to preserve a relatively high pluralism in the ongoing parliamentary campaign, while keeping the campaign low profile for the population. Politicization risks predispose election officials in favour of using administrative resources in order to ensure the minimum required turnout and a sterile composition of the Parliament.
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.