Belarusian nomenclature may step up clandestine struggle for seats in new Parliament

July 26, 2016 15:30

The upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament is an institution, which is used by the authorities to coordinate interests among regional nomenclature groups and with the central leadership. Presumably, the ongoing election campaign to the Council of the Republic will receive scarce coverage by the media and will pass unnoticed by the voters due to the lack of open competition. However, along with the increased competition in the lower chamber, regional nomenclature may step up behind-the-scenes competition for the seats in the upper chamber.

The election campaign to the upper chamber of the Belarusian Parliament, the Council of the Republic, has been launched in Belarus.

Belarusian electorate has demonstrated virtually no interest in the elections to the upper parliament chamber. Largely, this is due to the fact, that the elections to the Council of the Republic are non-public and do not require voters’ participation. Often, the names of senators become known only after the elections. Regional and local administrations and the president control the nomination and the election process. Each oblast and Minsk delegate eight members and the president nominates eight members.

According to the state media, the upper chamber elections held unopposed, and voters supported all candidates proposed by the local authorities. There were no reports of protest voting or disapproval of candidates by the local councils. This means, that regional nomenclature groups approve their candidates in advance and coordinate their nominees with the top leadership.

That said, media provides little coverage for the Council of the Republic activities, only rare official messages, with the exception of cases when an influential person or a well-known person becomes a deputy. For instance, the media broadly covered activities of ex-prime minister Mikhail Myasnikovich after his nomination as the Council of the Republic head. To be on the fair side, he was quite active and often stepped beyond the functions of his office. Most likely, the media was rather interested in his activities, which echoed his PM functions.

As a rule, representatives from all economic sectors are represented in the Council of the Republic. Interestingly, together with representatives from the education, health, industry, state-run media, sport and culture spheres, the authorities approve representatives from large private businesses. However, the largest group in the Council of the Republic make former executives or public officials.

The outgoing Council of the Republic had unprecedentedly many corruption rows involving its members. For instance, in the past two years, three members of the Senate were prosecuted for economic crimes. Senators Andrej Pavlovski, Anna Shareiko and Vitali Kostogorov were reputable and successful businessmen in Grodno, Vitebsk and Mogilev regions, respectively. Close ties with the local nomenclature allowed their nomination as senators from their respective regions. The prosecution of the Council of the Republic members was likely due to the struggle for the redistribution of dwindling state resources among the nomenclature.

As usual, members of the Council of the Republic are likely to represent all spheres of Belarusian society, albeit representation of large private businesses may somewhat reduce.

Image: harborresources.com

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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.