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