Parliamentary campaign kicks off in Belarus

April 22, 2016 18:12

Parliamentary campaign will, traditionally, take place in isolation: elections to electoral commissions and to the Parliament per se are closely controlled by the authorities. External political actors’ access will be minimal.

On June 18th, President Lukashenko signed a decree setting the Parliamentary elections date to the lower chamber, the House of Representatives for September 23rd. The upper chamber (Council of the Republic) will be formed between June 30 and September 30. On June 20th, the process of nomination of district election commission representatives kicked off.

The first campaign intrigue will be the nomination of 110 district election commissions’ members, which need to be set up before July 6th. Political parties and public organizations have already started nominating their representatives to the commissions. Within the current foreign policy context and taking into account previous experiences, the representation of the opposition in the election commissions will be either minimal or none at all.

In turn, at this stage of the campaign it is anticipated that there might be a competition between the Trade Unions Federation of Belarus and the National Association “Belaya Rus” for the right to participate in the district commissions. Both organizations are vying for the right to represent Belarusian civil society and for the benevolence of President Lukashenko in particular.

Finally, the KGB has also talked about its plans to monitor the campaign progress more actively. The role of the KGB is not yet clear, but it is expected that the KGB will use its capacity at least to prevent unwanted participants and observers from voting and counting procedures. Authorities’ main task during this election campaign is to ensure formation of manageable and predictable Parliament.

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Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.

The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.

The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.

Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.

President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.

Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.