Local elections: power vertical passes loyalty test ahead of 2015 Presidential Campaign
Election officials have demonstrated complete loyalty to the state’s leadership and high executive discipline. Official elections results indicate that electoral commissions have managed to deliver the voter turnout as requested by President Lukashenko regardless of the low political activity. Local authorities have managed to keep the people’s discontent with the state’s socio-economic policies out of politics.
President Lukashenko has met with the KGB head to hear his report about the local elections.
The 2014 local elections have completed a new political cycle, which started with the 2010 presidential elections. The Belarusian authorities have started preparations for the main political event, i.e. the 2015 presidential campaign. The local elections were the last opportunity for the president to test the electoral system, loyalty and diligence of the election campaign organisers.
Prior to the local elections campaign, the president indicated the desired voter turnout, emphasising that “[I] would be happy if at least 75% of voters showed up at the local elections”. The electoral commissions have demonstrated a high degree of controllability and executive discipline, by ensuring 77.27 % voter turnout, as official results suggest.
The campaign’s importance for the country’s leadership was confirmed the day after elections, when the President met with KGB Chairman Vakulchik. Remarkably, President Lukashenko discussed the elections results with the KGB head, not the Central Election Commission representatives.
Although the turnout threshold has been abolished for local elections, high voter turnout remained a crucial indicator for the authorities in the 2014 election campaign. The President repeatedly called upon the electorate to vote in the local elections, emphasising: “vote for whoever you want: if you want to protest, vote for the opposition, if you want constructivism, to support the current state policy, vote for a man of the state. This is your right. But come [to the election polls]”.
For the Belarusian leadership, a high turnout in the elections implies popular support for the current policies, and a boost to the local authorities’ ratings. In addition, the current leadership has no doubts of the election officials’ ability to ensure the necessary election results, which has been demonstrated in all election campaigns since 1996. A lower voter turnout could trigger certain crises in society, which could threaten the ailing state. It is worth noting that prior to the local campaign public confidence in the state institutions was in decline.
The authorities have so far managed to prevent public discontent in reaction to shrinking social benefits from translating into more tangible action. The opposition’s attempts to use socio-economic policy failures during the campaigning were rigidly suppressed and had no impact on the elections’ course or outcome. Moreover, the developments in Ukraine have consolidated the majority of the population with the authorities, deeply dividing the Belarusian society and strengthening a wary attitude towards the opposition.
The Belarusian authorities have succeeded in managing the electoral process in the face of shrinking resources to buy the population’s loyalty. If the authorities have no funds to boost the electorate’s incomes ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign, they will use other means to consolidate the population, such as external threats and fear of destabilizing the domestic situation.
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.