Local elections: power vertical passes loyalty test ahead of 2015 Presidential Campaign

April 22, 2016 18:47

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.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.