Belarusian authorities show little interest in higher turnout

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August 31, 2016 15:06
Image: "Naša Niva"

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.

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