Election legislation may undergo cosmetic changes

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April 22, 2016 18:23

On 5 December the Belarus’ Central Election Commission submitted to the President a package of proposals on the amendments of the current election legislation. The proposed changes have touched upon the issues on the nomination of candidates to deputies, the financing of campaigns and also the practice of the election campaigning and boycotting of elections. 

The proposed measures are superficial and do not touch upon the underlying rules of conducting the election campaigns in Belarus. The authorities are interested in formally keeping the existing majority system, and especially with a view of preserving the existing system of informal control over candidates and voters during elections. 

The proposals sent to the President should be classified as a "cautious improvement." Thus, it is proposed to allow the republican public associations which have one thousand members to nominate candidates to the Deputies of the Parliament. It is also proposed to increase the electoral funds of candidates for President, for the Deputies of the Parliament and for local Councils; to abandon the radio debates and the budget sponsorship of candidates for the production of campaign materials (leaflets, posters, etc.). Finally, the Central Commission (CC) proposes to remove the concept of boycott from the article on the election campaign. 

The first proposal has caused the greatest impact in the independent media because of suspicions that it is made in favor of the most noticeable public association in Belarus – the "Belaya Rus" - and will therefore extend its influence. However, it should be noted that the "Belaya Rus" has enough influence on the electoral process even without these amendments to the Electoral Code. In particular, at the last elections the “Belaya Rus” was able to bring to the Parliament 63 of its members and in such a way it has a majority in the Parliament (taking into account a non-significant role of the Parliament in the political system of the Republic of Belarus, it is before all an "arithmetic" majority). 

In practical terms, the enlargement of the possibilities on the nomination of candidates will most likely have the opposite effect: reduction of the level of political activity in for the cause of elections. In fact, such an effect was observed during the 2012 parliamentary election campaign, when appeared the opportunity to be nominated by political parties, even in the constituencies where a party did not have its structure registered. As a result, a number of nominees from the citizens by the signature collection declined by 30% in comparison to the parliamentary campaign 2008.

The increase of the financial possibilities for candidates also seems to be a conditional and cosmetic measure. The main obstacle to the financial activity of candidates is not the formal restrictions imposed by the Election Code, but the informal and unwritten conditions according to which the Belarusian business and the power interact. Thus, the authorities make it clear that they do not welcome "well-wishers", who would fund the political campaigns of the mismatched candidates (the phrase "well-wishers" belongs to the Chairwoman of the Central Commission Yermoshina). The demonstrative arrests of businessmen at the eve of elections (e.g, Y. Dan’kov in September 2012) are done in order to remove the remaining doubts.

Finally, the proposal to remove the concept of boycott from article No. 45 of the Electoral Code on the election campaign is a kind of revenge of the authorities for the last campaign. If this measure is approved, the candidates’ possibilities to campaign for a boycott in the state media (i.e. at the cost of the state budget) will be reduced to zero. In its turn, the possibilities of campaigning in the non-government media (i.e. at the cost of a candidate) are significantly limited by the described above system of informal relations of the authorities with business and individual citizens.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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