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 regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.