Election campaign results: the elections took place, a boycott did not
The elections’ main political outcome was that they demonstrated the sustainability and effectiveness of the power vertical. Belarusian authorities have proved that they can manage the campaign’s progress effectively and achieve the desired voter turnout, but the price they have to pay for the lack of competition in the electoral process is the population’s political apathy and growing lack of confidence in the authorities. The opposition, which had not set any political goals during the campaign, started shaping two new internal coalitions.
All the major participants in the election campaign remain at where they started off. The authorities have a predictable and controllable Parliament. The opposition can focus on its internal problems and continue building coalitions. In particular, on September 23rd, before the voting ended five opposition movements - BNF, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Hramada”, Belarusian Left Party “Fair World”, “For Freedom” and “Tell the Truth!” – issued a joint statement about non-recognition of the elections results. Earlier, six other organizations also issued a joint statement (see ‘Opposition’s post elections coalitions shaping up’).
The campaign has demonstrated that today the authorities have the greatest influence on the electorate and can guarantee 50% turnout, which is needed to validate the elections. Official data says the turnout at these elections was 74.2% with 26% early voting turnout. Note that 50% turnout threshold was achieved in all constituencies by 18:00 on September 23rd. Official data differs from independent monitoring data by 10-15%, which can be explained by artificially increased turnout.
The authorities had a clear strategy and tactics to mobilize voters. ‘Controlled mobilization’ strategy aimed to “wake up” the society just enough to secure the desired turnout, but not enough for the opposition to use it for their political goals, for instance, to boycott the elections. The authorities used different tactics: election commissions were staffed with loyal members and there were loyal elections observers, there were targeted information campaigns and repressions against opposition activists, including use of various pressure tools on voters (encouraging and repressive) to step up to the vote, for instance, ballot box stuffing, which was reported by an independent observer in the Mogilev constituency no. 87.
The precinct and district election commissions and observers groups have been largely formed by members in the pro-state associations and parties, such as the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, “Belaya Rus”, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, the Communist Party of Belarus, Belarusian Social Sports Party and others. The oppositions’ participation was minimal.
Early voting took place on September 18th - 22nd with a traditional turnout of 26% before the Election Day on September 23rd. On principal, Belarusians are willing to vote early, during this campaign, 1 825 062 people used their right to vote early. Nevertheless, the authorities used traditional tools to achieve the desired results: providing additional days off for those who voted early and exerting pressure on social groups particularly dependent on the state: students, soldiers, teachers, etc.
All the mentioned above measures allowed the authorities to succeed in achieving the campaign’s key strategic objective and to keep the election’s heat at a safe and adequate range. One should anticipate that there will be a traditional continuity between the new and the old Parliament, namely, it will remain a controlled tool to coordinate public policies, developed the President’s Administration and the Council of Ministers.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.