Election legislation may undergo cosmetic changes
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.
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.