Presidential elections in Belarus have not failed expectations, but intrigue regarding future development is still there

April 22, 2016 19:33

Post-election Belarusian society is significantly more united and not so stressed as it was after the two previous presidential campaigns. However, the intrigue has remained after the elections: whether the economic necessity would put an end to the long rule of President Lukashenka by inertia and prompt him to reforms. Meanwhile, the authorities do not allow their opponents to neither increase their political weight in society, nor influence within the existing political system. 

The Central Electoral Commission has updated the election results according to which votes cast ‘against all’ have decreased. 

Despite the humdrum presidential campaign of 2015 with a priori known results, the society is most curious about what domestic economic policy and foreign policy the authorities will adopt for the coming years. 

It should be noted that both, the authorities and the opposition have reached a consensus that the existing economic model needs to change. Election programmes of all presidential candidates envisaged economic reforms. Moreover, according to some analysts, candidate Lukashenka proposed the most liberal programme. 

Nevertheless, it is difficult to predict whether economic reforms should be anticipated. While voting on the election day, the incumbent president did not give a clear answer about changing the country’s economic policy: “The issue is not about me, I am ready for any reforms, including the revolutionary ones, albeit it is not my style. I am ready to act as you wish”

Due to the absolute predictability of the election results, society is much less frustrated and hopeless as compared with the aftermath of the previous presidential campaign. Critically minded voters have only made ironic comments with regard to the authorities in social networks and the level of political immigration is unlikely to rise. 

In addition, the authorities have attempted to demonstrate a low level of support for the ‘Russian world’ ideas among Belarusians. For instance, according to official data, Belarusian Cossacks Ataman Ulakhovich, who said he was the ‘Russian world’ supporter, won the smallest number of votes (1.67%). 

Due to non-participation of traditional oppositional parties in the elections, their influence even on the protest electorate is trending towards reduction. In addition, amid the ‘Maidan’ scenario not being on the agenda, the opposition has not proposed any other coherent strategy to dismantle the existing regime, which has had a clear impact on its popular ratings. 

Some observers have noted changes in the structure of support for President Lukashenka by growing support among previously most critical groups, such as, for example, young people and businesses. This, apparently, is one of the main factors why the titular opposition has lost in popularity. 

In addition, analysts have emphasized that the only opposition candidate for the presidency, Tatsiana Karatkevich, managed to attract new ‘non-opposition’ electoral groups, albeit she has somewhat lost her positions among the protest electorate. 

According the CEC, Tatsiana Karatkevich has won 4.4% of votes, which indicates that the authorities are not willing to accept the demands for domestic policy liberalization and institutionalization of the opposition in the representative bodies. Data collected by independent observers suggests a higher level of support for Tatsiana Karatkevich. 

The authorities are likely to be pushed towards some changes in the economic policy. However, they may go only as far, as their ability to control protest moods in society stretches.

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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.