Encroaching economic crisis prompts Belarusian authorities to schedule presidential elections in October

April 22, 2016 19:14

Amid deteriorating economic environment and growing social tension due to reducing wages and mass layoffs, the Belarusian authorities are pondering about holding the presidential elections in October. President Lukashenka has enlisted the Kremlin’s support and non-interference with the presidential campaign. In addition, he is counting on the absence of serious criticism from Western capitals for the elections’ organization. Earlier election date would somewhat complicate campaigning for the opposition, however, some opposition organisations have already stated their readiness to start the campaign. 

After a meeting with the president, CEC Chairman Lydia Yarmoshina said that she proposed to hold presidential elections in Belarus on October 11th, 2015. 

De jure, the presidential election in Belarus should be held no later than November 21st, 2015. Previously, the CEC talked about November 15th as the possible election date. Should the authorities decide to hold the elections on October 11th, the Parliament may declare the start of the campaign on June 30th

Formally, the CEC has explained the rescheduling of the elections to an earlier date by the desire to announce the elections during a regular parliamentary session and by compliance with some norms of the Constitution. 

Meanwhile, many experts agree that the elections may be held earlier due to the lack of resources to support people’s well-being and socio-economic development, as well as due to growing tension in the society amid lower salaries, stoppages, reduced working hours and layoffs. 

Despite the fact that President Lukashenka noted the lack of additional funds for the presidential campaign, he assured voters that “[elections] shall be worthy, as before”. In fact, the state has some internal reserves to buy the loyalty of the population before the elections, which have been saved by the Government and the National Bank through tight fiscal and monetary policies in H1 2015. The Finance Ministry reported, that as of May 1st, 2015, the state budget surplus totalled BYR 15.4 trillion rubles, or 6.1% of GDP. 

Prior to the CEC statement about the possible election date, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey visited Moscow and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. During the visit, he once again reassured the Kremlin of Belarus’ support at the international level and of a strategic partnership within the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union State. In response, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov confirmed that he saw no alternative to Lukashenka and assured of support for him during the elections: “as citizens of a different country we have no right to campaign for him, but we shall support Lukashenka”. 

President Lukashenka also requested the government to open the electoral process to domestic and international observers, however without changing the established election practices, which ensure his presidency: “We will not refuse anyone to observe the elections, including domestic and external observers. I would only ask not to make promises we cannot keep or experiment outside the legal field”. According to CEC Chairman Lydia Yarmoshina, after the election date is approved, Belarus would invite international observers from the OSCE, CIS and the Council of Europe. 

Earlier election date would somewhat complicate campaigning for the opposition parties. One of the most important election stages, i.e. collecting signatures in support for the nomination of presidential candidates, would be held in August, which is a holiday season in Belarus. Candidates, such as Tatsiana Korotkevich from the ‘People’s Referendum’, Anatoly Lebedko from the United Civil Party and Sergei Kaliakin from the ‘Fair World’ party, would be the most prepared for the elections, since they have already started the preparations. 

Overall, the Belarusian authorities aim to keep the elections low-profile and not to politicise them too much, which would create unfavourable conditions for alternative candidates. In addition, official Minsk anticipates keeping the campaign under control without undue violence against opponents, especially on the election day, thereby hoping that international observers would recognise some progress in the election process.

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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.