In heat of presidential campaign President Lukashenka avoids populism
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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.