Instead of the political system’s upgrade, Lukashenko offers an update

April 22, 2016 18:20

The Belarusian President’s main goal is to preserve the existing political system. “Modernization” rhetoric is used to control the ambitions of some officials and partially as a PR campaign towards the West.

On October 11th, President Lukashenko spoke before the outgoing Parliament of 4th convocation and made a number of statements about modernization of the political system.

The main message in Lukashenko’s address was the demand to preserve the existing political system. In other words, the President is not willing to change the Parliament’s role in the current “balance of powers” and in the coming years will not undertake a reform of the current majoritarian system.

Fractional parliament could become a threat to the government and the presidential administration, i.e. the de facto legislative power in Belarus. In addition, fractional Parliament is associated with very unpleasant memories from the “unstable 1990s”, when Lukashenko faced a real impeachment threat, and eventually dissolved the Supreme Council.

However, the authorities are under pressure from Belarusian nomenklatura, united around quango “Belaya Rus”. This organization lists 131,364 members, and in the new parliament 63 deputies out of 109 are “Belaya Rus” members. The President cannot simply ignore the interests of this influential group, but he is not prepared to make concessions either, where the main ones would be translation of the “Belaya Rus” into a political party and a corresponding electoral reform.

Therefore Lukashenko wants to reduce “Belaya Rus” appetites and offers to create competition among political parties in Belarus for appearances’ sake, without reforming the political system. On October 8th, the President made such a proposal to the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus Mr. Karpenko. The President said he was ready to support the patriotic party. At the same time, Lukashenko has not yet met with the “Belaya Rus” activists, while welcoming its possible transformation into a party.

If successful, such sparring with the Communists will keep the nomenclature from “Belaya Rus” busy at least until the next presidential election in 2015 and will temporarily keep applicants from “Belaya Rus” away from the President. Support, promised by the state to parties, is unlikely to entail the creation of favourable conditions; it rather implies the elimination of previously created barriers. Namely, office rent rates could be reduced, or a “green light” could be given for the organization of public events, or increased information support in the state media, etc.

If properly organized, such cosmetic changes could be presented in the West as a step towards genuine political pluralism and competitive democracy. It would change nothing for the opposition parties, but the potential increase in the country’s political activity if this plan was implemented could objectively improve voter’s interest in politics and, theoretically, the opposition could take advantage of it.

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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.