Opposition and authorities start preparations for local elections in 2018
The authorities aim to depoliticise society before the 2017/2018 electoral campaign, while the opposition only starts developing the agenda for the local elections. During the upcoming elections, the Belarusian authorities are likely to use a combined approach, i.e. to demotivate supporters of the opposition and ensure maximum turnout of the loyal electorate. In addition, amid attempts to normalise relations with western capitals, the authorities could allow better representation of political parties in elected bodies.
Belarusian political parties lack a common agenda for the local elections, and most of the opposition is distracted by the Russia-led joint military exercises Zapad-2017. As the exercises draw to an end, tension between the supporters of a boycott and those willing to participate in the election campaign could deteriorate. That said, the majority of the opposition political parties with developed regional structures plan to participate in the upcoming elections and nominate their candidates. Some organisations could attempt to lower barriers and engage many new activists with no experience in politics and who had not been nominated earlier.
Loyal political parties are likely to boost their activity too, especially in Minsk and large cities, and could win more seats in elected bodies. Perhaps, the authorities' refusal to implement previously announced changes to the electoral code could be offset by somewhat enhancing the role of parties and developing the party system in Belarus.
Yet the Belarusian leadership has not made a final decision about the scenario for the new electoral cycle, which will start in 2018 with local elections. The Central Election Commission head, Lidia Yarmoshina, emphasised, that the parliamentary and the presidential campaigns, which coincide in time in 2020, would be held separately. Indirectly, her statement refuted rumours about the possible combination of the local elections with a referendum to extend Lukashenka’s powers and reset his fifth term as the president.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.