Rumors about early Parliamentary elections meant to test the loyalty of the opposition

April 22, 2016 17:48

Statements by Belarusian politicians in response to an information leak to the Russian “Kommersant” show the split of the opposition around the issue of participation in elections. The breaking point is whether to condition participation in the elections with the release of political prisoners and rehabilitation, or not.

On November 9, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, referring to an anonymous source in the Belarusian Parliament, published information that the elections to the House of Representatives might be held in April 2012.

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The reaction of the leaders of the United Civil Party and the Left Party “Fair World” Mr. Lyabedzka and Mr. Kalyakin respectively on the news about possible early elections suggests that the opposition (at least registered and well-known parties) are willing to participate in the parliamentary elections and to start a dialogue with the authorities about democratization of the electoral law.

The non-registered party “Belarusian Christian Democracy” and one of its leaders Mr. Rymashevsky along with “Tell the Truth!” social movement and its leader Uladzimir Niakliaeu made strong statements against participation in the elections prior to the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners.

“For Freedom” movement took evasive centrist position. Its leader and Chairman Mr. Milinkevich did not say anything, however his Deputy Mr. Hubarevich said the movement has not yet made the decision about participation in the elections while there were political prisoners, however expressed their willingness to participate in the elections if the political system of Belarus becomes a subject to democratization and liberalization.

Therefore on the eve of the Parliamentary elections in Belarus there are two main streams in the Belarusian political camp. On the one hand, there are “reasonable critics” among the medium and large political parties who are willing to participate in elections under certain conditions (liberalization of laws on elections), and who do not threaten the authorities with a boycott of the election campaign. On the other hand, there are the so-called “new wave” politicians with more radical views (BChD, “Tell the truth!”).

The organizers of the information leak received a fairly clear picture of what oppositional political forces occupied a constructive position vis-?-vis the legitimacy of the parliamentary elections in 2012, an issue the most important for the authorities. Regardless of when the elections take place - in April or September - the Belarusian authorities will use this campaign as a stake in the next round of bargaining with the West and, most likely, while negotiating for a new IMF loan.

Regardless of when the elections take place - in April or September - the Belarusian authorities will use this campaign as a stake in the next round of bargaining with the West and, most likely, while negotiating for a new IMF loan.

In order to prepare for bargaining, it is particularly important for the authorities to know that opposition politicians do not plan to organize a joint boycott campaign and ensure the domestic legitimacy of the elections with their participation. Apparently it was the main purpose of the information leak published by Kommersant, i.e. to clarify the situation with the boycotting of the elections by the opposition. In fact, the opposition parties were also interested in finding out the format of the upcoming campaign, therefore the provocative article by Kommersant caused a generous stream of public statements by top personas of the Belarusian opposition.

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The Belarusian authorities are attempting to strengthen some elements of the ‘Soviet’ education to ensure the ideological loyalty of new generations to the state. Most likely, one of the major tasks of the educational reform is to prevent growing discontent with the existing education system among the population. The educational reform aims to strengthen centralisation and adjust the system to the needs of the public sector.

In Belarus, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Ministry of Economy would determine the university enrolment figures.

The Belarusian authorities do not seem to have a long-term vision of the educational reform. The education system changes depending on who leads the Education Ministry and has access to President Lukashenka. For instance, former head of pro-government communist party and Education Minister Igor Karpenko reintroduced some "Soviet" elements to the school and strengthened ideological components along with the de-politicisation of the curricula. Current generation of students and youth have not spoken against the authorities, unlike previous generations raised during the Gorbachev thaw and socio-political transformations of the 1990s.

In addition, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to adopt measures aiming to prevent discontent among the population with the Belarusian education system. The authorities are mobilizing those nostalgic for the USSR and propose to return to 5-marks grading system, school uniforms and reduced curriculum. The Belarusian leadership also aims to blur the growing social stratification in society and to relax social tension due to the growing income gap between the richest and poorest.

Should the authorities adopt plans to reduce university enrolment, they would re-certify universities in order to close some of them and would reduce competition from private educational institutions. The Belarusian leadership is attempting to adjust the education system to the needs of the real economy, to reduce pressure on the labour market and to cut government spending on higher education for specialists low in demand by replacing them with graduates of secondary vocational schools requiring less time to train.