Belarusian authorities will not change election rules before Parliamentary elections
President Lukashenka aims to have a balanced nomenclature representation in the Parliament without empowering any particular nomenclature group and, hence, abandoning the idea of legalising the ‘party of power’. The Belarusian authorities are likely to alter the composition of the Parliament in favour of younger new members and women. The authorities are unlikely to let opposition representatives in the Parliament and enable systemic opposition to form.
In an interview with Zviazda newspaper Central Election Commission Head Yarmoshyna said that the parliamentary elections in Belarus were likely to be held on September 11th, 2016.
The cutback on the state’s social protection and forced unpopular measures introduced by the government, have had a negative impact on the elite’s ratings. The 2016 Parliamentary elections in Belarus will be held against a background of economic failures and attempts to normalize relations with the West, which is a hard task for the Belarusian authorities.
Meanwhile, President Lukashenka reaffirmed that election rules would not change before the election campaign and that the status quo in the distribution of parliamentary seats would be preserved. While meeting with Chairman of the lower house Vladimir Andreichenko, the president assured the state apparatus, that he would not “play some obscure democracy”.
In addition, President Lukashenka encouraged parliamentarians to boost their ideological and propaganda work with the population before the parliamentary elections. In addition, he encouraged some internal competition among potential candidates, ‘so that active, trained people made it to the new Parliament, who would be capable of solving the country’s socio-economic problems’.
That said, the nomenclature has once again voiced the intention to create a "party of power" based on Belaya Rus quango. Conventionally, this issue is raised before election campaigns in order to consolidate and mobilise the nomenclature to participate in campaign activities. It is worth noting that Belayar Rus leadership has set a rather ambitious task to nominate their candidates in all 110 constituencies. Yet the president is unlikely to allow such a substantial presence of Belaya Rus representatives in the Parliament. Several pro-government candidates in some constituencies, however, may create an impression of competition in order to bolster voter’s interest in the elections and enhance voter turnout.
The authorities are wary of low voter turnout in the upcoming campaign. People’s low interest in the parliamentary elections is due to falling ratings of state institutions amid lower household income and new state measures aiming to squeeze more cash from the population. Besides, the most active campaigning stage of the elections will be during summer vacations.
That said, the state is not interested in boosting electorate’s attention to the election campaign. Socio-economic failures of the authorities have led to growth of latent tension in Belarusian society. Yet citizens are not prepared to defend their interests by coming out in the streets and joining the unauthorized opposition activity. However, dissatisfaction with social and economic policy may transform into political demands as the government increases pressure on people’s wallets.
Meanwhile, the authorities started to prepare the public opinion of the European countries to internal political processes ongoing in Belarus. For instance, Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei in an interview with the HungarianMagyar Hirlap attempted to justify preservation of existing policies, "We are called "the last dictatorship in Europe”, “totalitarian regime" and so on. Yes, maybe there are some elements of tough governance, but in the current complex situation, especially when such financial and economic crises occur, when one has to use micromanagement, eventually there is no other way".
Apparently, the Belarusian authorities would attempt to demonstrate improvements in the election procedures to the rest of the world by increasing women’s representation in the Parliament. This would add points to Belarus in the Europe-wide gender discourse. CEC head Yarmoshyna emphasised her commitment to gender mainstreaming and setting seats quota in the House of Representatives, "As for us, more than half of voters are women. [...] I believe there should be at least 50% of women - then it will be proportionate. [...] so that we preserved the standard, improved it but not made worse - I mean gender representation in the government”.
To sum up, the president has no plans to change the rules for the upcoming election campaign and is likely to preserve the balance among different nomenclature groups in the new parliament.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.