Belarusian authorities tighten political activity rules before the election
On May 8, U.S. Ambassador to OSCE Mr. Kelly expressed serious concern over the increased number of arrests in Belarus. Earlier Belarusian human rights activists appealed to the UN to urgently respond to an unprecedented wave of arbitrary arrests in Belarus. Since the beginning of June about 40 people were detained in Belarus on various grounds.
Such a harsh reaction of the authorities on the eve of not yet officially announced parliamentary campaign aims to tighten the rules of conduct in public places for the opposition. Most likely, the government pursues two goals. Firstly, street arrests meant to suppress a potential renewal of social networks protests, which were actively used by “Social Networks Revolution” opposition youth movement in the summer of 2011 and demonstrated inability of the city police to react adequately.
Secondly, it is likely that numerous and seemingly uncoordinated detentions of civil and political activists, journalists and academic community representatives have a common base. The majority of the Belarusian opposition already denies the democratic nature of the upcoming parliamentary elections and is preparing to boycott in various forms. The authorities in their turn also demonstrate that they will use any opportunity to prevent such actions.
The probable logic of the Belarusian law enforcement agencies is that in response to the boycott of the parliamentary elections by the opposition, the government will boycott the opposition, i.e. will put it in a very narrow legal framework for mass street actions. Earlier, the Belarusian parliament has prudently amended relevant laws with tougher measures.
The Belarusian authorities could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.