Belarusian society showing signs of fatigue given the long rule of President Alexander Lukashenko

April 22, 2016 19:17

According to the Central Election Commission, 14 individuals submitted applications to register initiative groups nominating candidates for presidency. 

Comment 

The fatigue from 21 years of President Alexander Lukashenko’s leadership of the country along with his socio-economic policies is growing in Belarusian society. Half of the nominees who submitted their applications to register initiative groups have no experience in politics, do not belong to any political faction, stress their loyalty to the incumbent president or are in favour of the gradual transformation of the Belarusian regime. It is doubtful that the authorities will register initiative groups of exotic nominees, or that they will allow them to progress to the subsequent stages of signature’ collection necessary for nomination as candidates. 

Of the 14 candidates for presidency who submitted applications to register their initiative groups, only 8 have experience in politics or represent a political faction. Moreover, several exotic nominees did not manage to submit documents to the CEC or refused to do so at the last moment. At the same time, a record number of potential female candidates – a record number for Belarus – submitted applications for registration – 4 initiative groups. 

Society’s dismissal of the possibility to change the incumbent head of state through the elections as well as a lack of alternative candidates with significant political capital have led to a parade of ‘random’ and exotic candidates. Nominees, previously unknown in politics, often choose not to conceal their lack of seriousness regarding their intentions in terms of participation in the presidential campaign. Some of those who have declared their willingness to run for presidency use it as gifted opportunity to attract the attention of the media to their person or business. 

Besides, some independent nominees do not consider themselves a part of the opposition and most often declare their loyalty to the incumbent president. Yet it is noteworthy that they independently point to the fatigue induced by more than 20 years that Alexander Lukashenko has been the head of the Belarusian state. Some of the candidates are sympathetic towards the opposition but are in favour of gradual transformation of the Belarusian regime with a guarantee that there will be no grounds for the prosecution of the incumbent leadership of the country. Virtually all the ‘random’ candidates have insufficient human capital to collect the 100 thousand signatures required for registration. And some of them do not even have the necessary minimum number of members to register an initiative group. 

Notable is the nomination of the chairman of the pro-governmental Belarusian Patriotic Party and the leader of the public association ‘Belarusian Cossacks’ Nikolay Ulakhovich. According to statements, documented in the media, made by Nikolay Ulakhovich, he is not going to compete with President Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential elections but is going to support the latter in the election campaign. So far ‘the Belarusian Cossacks’ have not made their presence felt in public politics, and the Belarusian Patriotic Party has not taken any noticeable part in either local or parliamentary elections. 

In all likelihood, the nomination of Nikolay Ulakhovich is triggered by the need to increase his political clout to control the entire Cossack movement in Belarus. Most likely, after the events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities are concerned about the activisation of paramilitary Cossack units in Belarus that sympathise with the Kremlin. Moreover, the initiative group nominating Nikolay Ulakhovich comprises more than 1 thousand people, which will allow him to successfully complete the phase of collecting 100 thousand signatures and become registered as a candidate, given the support of the authorities. 

The authorities have been cautious as regards the next ‘parade of candidates’ and have announced that there would be a limit to the number of participants in the presidential campaign. As stated by the chairman of the Central Election Commission Lydia Yarmoshina, several initiative groups of candidates for presidency that submitted documents stand a chance of being registered early next week: ‘We will know the number on Monday. At this stage, I envisage that only five people will be successful’. 

Thus, the authorities are most likely to register candidates for presidency which represent ‘titular opposition’ who have made their presence in politics felt and whose actions are predictable. At the same time, registration of a few candidates loyal to the authorities cannot be ruled out, as this will demonstrate pluralism and potentially counteract actions of the opposition. .

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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.