President Lukashenko ornaments foreign policy
Before the elections, the country’s leadership takes hasty advance measures to mitigate the effects from the highly probable non-recognition of the legitimacy of the new parliament and the electoral process by the international observers. The authorities hope to limit their measures to the public relations domain.
On August 21st, President Lukashenko delivered a programmatic speech at the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presented the new Minister Vladimir Makey. On August 24th, the President met with staff of the international TV project “Welcome to Belarus”.
Country’s authorities act primarily in the field of public relations to improve their image. President’s surroundings believe that Vladimir Makey’s appointment as Foreign Minister will be welcomed by, first of all, the EU and the U.S., since Makey was the main policy maker behind Belarus’ Western foreign policy during the ‘liberalization’ period in 2008-2010. Therefore, President Lukashenko hopes Makey’s diplomatic skills will “normalize relations with the West”, during conflict periods in particular. It is clear that today Belarus and the West are in a conflict state.
Simultaneously, the Belarusian authorities still hope they do not need to fulfill the conditions for the resumption of the dialogue with the EU and the U.S. – to release and rehabilitate political prisoners. In particular, Lukashenko in his well-known manner, reminded the Foreign Ministry staff and reporters that today’s main challenges and risks for Belarus “are external and brought to our country by some world forces interested in destroying the stability of the Belarusian society and the state”.
Such rhetoric is rather traditional for Lukashenko and indicates that the release and rehabilitation of convicted politicians and activists is regarded as a stake card in a bargaining game, which, in the authorities’ view, has not yet begun therefore leaving any tangible democratization in the political life out of the equation. Lukashenko aims to reach a compromise at the minimal cost.
For example, such a compromise could be the minimum possible “positive” assessment of the election campaign by the OSCE and PACE international observers. Judging by the President’s statements, the government welcomed the recognition that the image of Belarus was changing for the better. In terms of the election observation mission during the parliamentary elections, the authorities would like to see ‘progress’ being asserted.
Following this logic, it is not a coincidence that on August 19th an international TV project “Welcome to Belarus” has been launched, which shows six families from China, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and the United States making guided tours around Belarus. On August 24th, President Lukashenko personally met with the participants in the show and reiterated that Belarus was an open and welcoming country.
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.