Local elections: authorities want high turnout without politicising society

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April 22, 2016 18:46

President Lukashenko is attempting to mobilise his supporters to participate in the local elections. The ongoing local election campaign is less noticeable for the electorate than the previous one. The authorities will have to ensure the necessary turnout to confirm the population’s loyalty.

President Lukashenko has requested the electorate to show a good turnout during the local elections.

According to recent polls by IISEPS, people’s trust in local councils and executive committees has decreased to about 28%. In 2013, the Belarusian authorities undertook some unpopular measures which had a negative impact on the credibility of the local councils and executive committees. In addition, the state has reduced social benefits to the population, reducing public confidence in the local authorities.

Simultaneously, ahead of the local elections, amendments were introduced to the Electoral Code, worsening the campaigning conditions. It is worth noting that the vast majority of 22,784 deputy candidates have not launched election funds to finance their campaigns. CEC Chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina said, “Election funds have not appeared in the majority of the councils. That is, they [the candidates] did not even try to form such funds. Only one candidate on the village level has opened such a fund. At the regional level, we can talk about 2% of the candidates who have launched electoral funds, but at the oblast level, there are about 25% of them. In Minsk, about 50% of registered candidates have opened their election funds”. Thus, voter activity has concentrated exclusively in the capital city, while elections are hardly visible to those living in the regions.

The events in Ukraine also raise certain concerns by the election campaign organisers, which were disavowed by President Lukashenko, “…and I assure you that we will ensure safety of all organisers and participants in the election campaign. We have enough forces and means to do so”.

Moreover, the authorities are boosting election commission members’ loyalty with rewards. CEC Chairwoman Lydia Yermoshina said that the election commission members would receive about Br 200,000 for their work on Election Day.

It is worth noting that in the coming years the political system in Belarus will not undergo transformations. The CEC head emphasised that “this question is irrelevant because our voters are interested in personalities, and not in political platforms. Everyone wants to see a human being, with his/her successes or failures”.

The Belarusian leadership is attempting to ensure a high turnout in local elections without having to “politicise” society. In their view, this would enhance local authorities’ credibility ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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