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 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.