Local elections: authorities want high turnout without politicising society
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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.