Minsk ponders early presidential elections

April 22, 2016 18:49

Belarus’ crumbling socio-economic situation means that a call for an early presidential election is among the likely scenarios. The decision about the election date will depend on whether Minsk manages to lobby its interests in the Kremlin. Any time soon, President Lukashenko anticipates receiving Moscow’s guarantees of support for the Belarusian economy before the 2015 presidential campaign.

Amid spiralling problems in the Belarusian economy, political analysts have started talking about early presidential elections.

The next presidential election in Belarus should be held by November 20th, 2015, at the latest. As Belarusian legislation does not regulate early elections, the Belarusian authorities may call for an early presidential campaign. In 2006, for example, the presidential elections could have taken place in June, but were held in March – three months before the deadline.

The Belarusian authorities have full control over all the mechanisms necessary to ensure the election results. During the 2014 local elections, electoral commissions demonstrated complete loyalty and ensured the turnout requested by the authorities. 

Usually during a presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities seek to increase presidential approval ratings by raising wages. Despite some recovery in Q1 2014, economic imbalances are growing, and require adjustments, which imply lower incomes. The authorities aspire for additional external financing in order to avoid a major crisis. Today, such assistance may only come from Russia. 

However, the Kremlin is not yet ready to pay for Belarus’ entry into the EEC on her own terms. During the Minsk Summit, President Lukashenko failed to reap major concessions from Russia as regards oil duty exemptions, which would imply an additional income of USD 3-4 bln per year. Nevertheless, the Kremlin made some concessions to Minsk, for example, it agreed to supply 2 mln tons of oil to Belarusian refineries in 2014 and to issue a USD 2 bn loan. 

External factors seem to favour Belarus’ government. Belarus expects that events in Ukraine will prompt the EU and the USA to revise their attitude towards Belarusian leadership. If President Lukashenko manages to preserve a balanced position in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, he may increase his role in the region as a mediator and induce the EU to soften its stance.

Events in Ukraine have also contributed to strengthening Lukashenko’s rating at home. More and more, Belarusian society favours a strong state which is capable of ensuring political stability in the country. In addition, Belarusian propaganda can always provide updates on the Euromaidan’s negative aspects.

As the Kremlin is focused on promoting its interests in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities expect less attention from Moscow to internal political processes in Belarus. For example, during the last presidential election campaign in 2010 President Lukashenko’s relations with the Kremlin deteriorated sharply. And being under strong pressure from Moscow, President Alexander Lukashenko was forced to sign documents to establish the Common Economic Space. In the long-term, Belarus’ total dependence on the Kremlin will mean that the costs of post-Soviet integration for Belarus will only rise. .

Therefore, holding early elections in Belarus does not appear to be the main scenario for the Belarusian authorities. President Lukashenko counts on the Kremlin to provide some kind of support for the Belarusian economy for the election period.

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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.