In heat of presidential campaign President Lukashenka avoids populism

April 22, 2016 19:25

Amid the ever lowest political activity in Belarus, the Belarusian authorities are set to ensure that President Lukashenka wins to serve his fifth term. The authorities have refrained from paternalistic rhetoric and are seeking ways to limit the criticism of the state’s social and economic policy by alternative candidates. The authorities are likely to start mobilisation through the media and administrative resource a few weeks before the election date in order to ensure the required turnout.

According to the Central Election Commission, Alexander Lukashenka’s team collected 1.7 million valid signatures in support of the incumbent president.

The 2015 presidential campaign is taking place against the backdrop of political apathy among electorate and the authorities have not undertaken any measures to boost people’s interest in the elections. The authorities probably fear that people’s discontent with the existing social and economic policies could translate into political demands and an increase in protest activity.

Interestingly, the incumbent president has been avoiding public statements and evaluations about the ongoing campaign. Only a month or so until the election date, yet President Lukashenka has not issued a decree to convene the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, which is one of the major mobilisation mechanisms in support of the incumbent president. As a rule, at the past assemblies candidate Lukashenka presented his election programme and outlined socio-economic policies for the next five years. This time, however, the Belarusian government cannot guarantee better living standards for the population in the coming years. Moreover, the authorities could not prevent the Belarusian rouble depreciation and a decline in the living standards of the population already during the 2015 presidential campaign.

It is a curious coincidence that the authorities have released one of the most determined opponents of Lukashenka, Mikola Statkevich, immediately after it became clear that two opposition candidates – Lyabedzka, the United Civic Party leader and Kalyakin, the ‘Fair World’ leader – would not participate in the presidential race. Shortly after his release, Statkevich proposed a strategy of ignoring the 2015 elections, which had narrowed the opposition’s abilities to convey their messages to the electorate and would hardly boost political activity in society.

Central Electoral Commission head Yarmoshyna has made several statements about the likely number of candidates on the ballots in the presidential race – yet during and before the nomination stage. Probably, the Belarusian authorities anticipated to register all five candidates, who had submitted the required number of signatures in support of their nomination to the constituency commissions. For instance, a few days before the scandal with poisoning of Vladimir Tereshchenko and rejection of his signature sheets by constituency election commissions, Yarmoshyna optimistically said, “I hope that we register all five potential contenders. The more candidates, the more interesting elections are”.

However, the authorities were prompted to revise the initial scenario of the presidential campaign, and had not registered economist Vladimir Tereshchenko as a candidate, even though he avoided direct criticism of President Lukashenka.

During the campaigning stage, the incumbent president is likely to use vague ideological slogans about building independent Belarus and ensuring security amid the conflict in Ukraine. In addition, he is likely to avoid any promises about the growth of people’s living standards in the next five years.

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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.