Electoral Legislation Simplification
Belarusian Electoral Code will be amended. Most of the proposed amendments are cosmetic and do not affect the electoral system. Introduced changes will facilitate the dominating electoral practices.
On January 31st Belarus’ President held a meeting on the proposed Electoral Code changes. The proposed amendments will be considered by the Parliament in September 2013. The amendments will be adopted in the autumn, and the authorities, as well as other participants of the electoral process will be able to try the novelties already during the local elections in 2014.
Amendments, discussed at the meeting, inter alia, concerned the proposal to determine the winner in the parliamentary elections during the first voting round based on relative majority principle. Officially, such innovation aims at “reducing the campaign costs”. In reality, such an amendment, if adopted, implies abolition of the second round. In 2009, similar amendments have been introduced with regard to local elections.
Another important outcome of the meeting was the criticism by the President of the proposal to enable candidates’ nomination by Republican public associations having more than 1,000 members. It is very likely that this proposal will be rejected completely. If so, the largest quango in the country, Belaya Rus, will not be affected. Belaya Rus has enough lobbying opportunities to nominate and register their candidates within already existing procedures.
The meeting participants also positively reacted to the proposal to ban the boycott campaign by already registered candidates, to an increase in candidates’ personal campaign funds, as well as to the proposal to enable candidates for local Councils to form personal funds. In addition, it was proposed to enable candidates to pay for printed campaign materials from own funds, rather than from the state budget.
Thus, as anticipated, the proposed changes are overly cosmetic. The current candidates’ nomination and registration procedures remain unchanged, and the authorities attempt to make them more effective to serve their purposes - primarily via changing the procedure for determining the winners in the parliamentary elections. The latter suggests that the authorities recognize the problems with populations’ electoral support and seriously prepare for the low turnout during the next election campaign.
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.