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.
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.