Electoral practices are likely to change before Parliamentary elections in Belarus
The Belarusian authorities are anticipating that the EU lifts sanctions against Belarusian officials and companies, except those who are suspected of disappearances of political opponents. In order for the sanctions to be lifted, the authorities are willing to change the electoral practices before the upcoming Parliamentary elections scheduled for the autumn-2016.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on February 15th, 2016 would lift most of the sanctions, said Belarusian Ambassador in Brussels Andrei Yevdochenko. He argued that the talks about the future cooperation between the EU and Belarus were already underway in anticipation of a quick lifting of the sanctions. Simultaneously, the ambassador recognized that above all, the EU member states would have to come to a consensus, which might not be the case on February 15th.
The EU has confirmed the likelihood of lifting the sanctions, yet it is unclear what conditions would be put vis-a-vis Belarus. Currently, the EU basic requirements relate to urgent (before the parliamentary elections 2016) implementation of the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations following the presidential election in 2015. On February 12th, the president set up an expert group under the auspices of the Central Election Commission to study the OSCE recommendations, and its first meeting will be held on February 16th. CEC head Yarmoshyna said that the group should be able to propose changes to the electoral practices for the 2016 Parliamentary Elections to the president within a month. That said, the electoral law will not be amended.
Based on the OSCE recommendations, the CEC is likely to propose the following changes to the electoral practices: to restrict the powers of election commissions’ heads regarding the admission of observers; to allow observers to observe the vote counting; to allow some opposition representatives in election commissions; to attempt creating a unified voters list. Indeed, these changes will not create equal conditions for the authorities and the opposition, preserving the advantage of the authorities’ candidate. Nonetheless, some liberalisation will create some opportunities for the opposition – especially since candidates from the authorities are unlikely to have any experience in public policy due to the nature of the political regime in Belarus.
In exchange for some liberalization of electoral practices and, consequential the lifting of sanctions, the Belarusian authorities are anticipating to gain access to financial resources: placement of Eurobonds, loans from the European Investment Bank, and cooperation between the state and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In addition, Minsk hopes that the EU will support Belarus’ application for the WTO accession. Finally, Belarus plans to start developing a framework agreement with the EU.
It is likely that on February 15th, 2016, the Belarusian issue will be resolved in a positive way and that electoral practices will be somewhat liberalized before the 2016 parliamentary elections.
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.