Belarusian authorities start preparing for 2015 presidential campaign

April 22, 2016 19:00

The Belarusian leadership has started to prepare for the presidential election in 2015 by probing issues that could be popular among society and could take central stage in Lukashenko’s campaign.

In the upcoming presidential campaign, one of the authorities’ main objectives is to release tension and overcome the values divide in Belarusian society so as to prevent political destabilisation.

However, the authorities are not considering changing the traditional scenario for the election campaign, which excludes the opposition from fully participating in the election process.

In an interview with Euroradio, Central Election Commission Head Lidia Yermoshina spoke about their fears during the elections, the opposition, the idea to nominate Statkevich as a presidential candidate and why the CEC should not be held responsible for the international recognition of the elections.

After the president’s press conference with the Russian regional media, some political analysts said Lukashenko had started the election campaign. Meanwhile, it is likely that the presidential elections will be held in autumn 2015. Most likely, with his speech Lukashenko meant to air the main themes for the 2015 campaign.

Since the president was unable to refer to progress in socio-economic development due to its absence, he attempted to talk about issues which had previously had a positive effect on his ratings. For example, in H1 2014, President Lukashenko beefed up his anti-corruption rhetoric, and tried to act as the main guarantor in preserving favourable relations with Russia and obtaining bonuses from the Eurasian integration.

At the same time, the Belarusian authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of 2010 presidential campaign and having numerous opposition candidates in the 2015 elections. CEC Head Yarmoshina outlined the likely scenario for the upcoming presidential elections: "I think that at least four people should be on the ballots - three is not enough. What if one candidate suddenly withdraws? There were three candidates in the 2001 elections, albeit initially something like 26 wanted to run. Although, only four were able to collect the signatures".

Even before Yarmoshina’s interview, Vice-Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Gaidukevich mentioned a similar scenario for the 2015 presidential election “Sergei Gaidukevich and Lukashenko will be the candidates, and as soon as the elections are announced, the opposition will accelerate, hold their Congress in the same week (we’ll help to accelerate them) and nominate a candidate from the opposition. Maybe they will fail to agree among themselves – then we’ll have two candidates from the opposition. We do not believe there will be anybody else.” 

Unlike during the previous thaw in Belarus-EU relations in 2008-2010, in 2014 the Belarusian authorities managed to impose their agenda in talks with the West and unblock the relations with the EU and the US without fulfilling the basic requirement – the release of political prisoners.

The Belarusian authorities are hoping that relations with Brussels will continue to normalise unconditionally and that the West will cut its support for the Belarusian opposition. Amid the crisis in Ukraine, official Minsk hopes that the West will revise its policy towards the Belarusian leadership. In addition, the pragmatic cooperation between Minsk and Brussels (without political conditions) includes a waiver of political liberalisation, which, according to the Belarusian leadership, could cause political destabilisation in the country and result in attempts to force regime change through mass protests on the election day.

The Belarusian authorities associate the main risks during the 2015 presidential campaign with a potential conflict with the Kremlin, inter alia, over the Eurasian Economic Union. This may be one of the main reasons why the president does not want to hold elections in the spring of 2015. In early 2015 he might have to argue with the Kremlin over the practical applications of the EEU Treaty, which takes effect on January 1st, 2015.

The conditions for the opposition in the 2015 election campaign will be harsher than in 2010. However, the authorities will attempt to narrow the divide in values among Belarusian society by integrating some ideas of the opposition into the state policy.

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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.