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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.