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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.