MIA reform designed to protect the President’s entourage
Our previous assumptions have been confirmed: the Interior Ministry’s main purpose of reform, hidden from the public, is to distance itself from curbing organized crime and corruption. This will ensure greater safety for the Belarusian management and business elites and will increase their dependence on President Lukashenko.
On September 14th, “Platforma”, a Belarusian human rights NGO, reported that the ongoing MIA reform will reorganize the Ministry’s Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption.
Human rights defenders reported that Interior Minister Shunevich signed an order to downsize the Ministry’s Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption staff and to delegate the ordinary units of the criminal police the authority to combat organized crime. This information has not yet been officially confirmed.
However, this step was anticipated and fits into the logic of the reform of the law enforcement agencies, a process that started in 2011. There are two major trends in the President’s inner circle: concentrating anti-corruption investigative work under Lukashenko’s auspices and weakening the MIA combat units management.
Firstly, this is meant to strengthen the President’s role as the center for harmonizing the Belarusian elite’s interests. Secondly, it reduces the risks for the country’s leadership, because mobile and disciplined combat units of the Interior Ministry could become a threat to the regime, in particular, if there was not enough funding from the government.
The Ministry’s Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption traced and detained suspects in the Minsk metro terrorist attack on April 11th, 2011. In spite of this, by the end of 2011, the curator of this operation, Deputy Minister of Interior and former head of the Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption Colonel Pekarsky was fired under the humiliating pretext of “discrediting the title”. Another former Deputy Minister Mr. Poluden, who commanded the public security police forces during meetings’ dispersal, was also arrested in December 2011 on corruption charges. Regardless of their guilt, the authorities are interested in reducing these officials’ influence in the Interior Ministry, and subordinated military police units (their role increased after the mass arrests in December 2010).
The fact that this information leaked from a human rights NGO demonstrates that MIA officials are trying to ‘protest’ against the ongoing reform, but their protest is poorly organized and does not have enough influence to provoke a commensurate reaction. Otherwise, the information would have appeared in other media, in the best case in Russia. In any case, the fact that security forces went public implies that the Interior Ministry has exhausted all non-public instruments to influence the situation and most likely will not be able to withstand the “reformers” from the President’s entourage.
The Belarusian authorities could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.