Political reformists offer a deal to the authorities
Pro-state political parties offer Belarus’ authorities to reform the current majoritarian electoral system. High probability of low voter turnout in the next election campaign makes President Lukashenko’s entourage take this proposal seriously.
In the September issue, Belaruskaya Dumka, a Presidential Administration magazine published an article about a roundtable, in which representatives from three pro-governmental political parties and a quango “Belaya Rus” took part. Discussions focused on the parliamentary elections’ results.
The discussion about the need to reform the electoral system has moved up a level. Such a publication in the President’s Administration magazine immediately after the elections implies that Lukashenko’s surroundings continue to lobby for electoral reform. Undoubtedly, the First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Mr. Radkov, who also chairs quango “Belaya Rus” is aware of this initiative and supports it.
The most important part of the discussion focused on the need to reform the current [majoritarian] electoral system into a proportional or mixed one. All the roundtable participants, Deputy Chairman of the quango “Belaya Rus” Mr. Orda, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus Mr. Atamanov, Chairman of the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, Mr. Zadnepryany, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, Mr. Gaidukevich, have called for a reform.
Of particular interest were arguments voiced by Mr. Gaidukevich, who in fact openly offered a deal to the government: 50% of seats in the Parliament could be assigned to pro-government deputies, and other deputies should be elected by party lists. In Mr. Gaidukevich’s view, it would make it easier to ensure international recognition of the elections’ legitimacy and to avoid social unrest in the future.
The issue of low voter turnout in the recent parliamentary elections has not been raised during the discussion, but, clearly, the problem is recognized by the authorities and requires solutions, particularly in the light of the 2015 presidential campaign. Theoretically, the electoral reform will help the authorities to tackle this problem, as transition to a proportional or mixed electoral system will reduce the turnout requirement needed to validate the elections.
Today the minimum required turnout in Belarus is 50%, which is associated with certain costs for the authorities. In particular, each campaign requires society to be mobilized, including various kinds of repression and coercion. Moreover, each campaign entails turnout and voting rigging, as indicated by independent observers on a regular basis.
In these circumstances, especially given the extremely low voter turnout in the 2012 campaign, the authorities have an objective interest in reducing their own costs. Representatives of pro-state political parties and social movements (“Belaya Rus”) attempt to gamble on this interest. However, the President’s entourage calculate not only the risks from low voter turnout, but also the risks of having a fractional parliament in Belarus, and until recently the latter have been assessed as greater.
It should be noted that the Belarusian opposition’s main electoral tactics – boycott or participation – suit the interests of the two conventional and far more powerful groups: president’s entourage and nomenklatura. The boycott tactics aimed at reducing voter turnout, is fully consistent with the interests of “reformists’” from the pro-state parties and quango “Belaya Rus”, while the ‘participation’ tactics, which increases the turnout, corresponds to President Lukashenko’s interests, who has no interest in political reform. In this conflict of interests the Belarusian opposition has a ‘pathfinder’ role in a complex game between much more powerful political actors.
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.