Virtually no changes in campaigning rules in Belarusian presidential elections
On August 6th, at the meeting of the Central Election Commission, its chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina announced, that campaigning through the state media would be prolonged, but the time allocated for alternative candidates to address voters will remain unchanged. The authorities attempt to cover up the ritual nature of the election campaign and not to create additional threats to the system.
CEC Head Lidia Yermoshina said that in 2015 campaigning conditions would improve: “Firstly, we have extended the campaigning period. Previously, all fitted into two weeks, at least airtime. Now the candidates will be able to use airtime for free during one month. This is a great benefit, an opportunity to remind about themselves. Firstly, through a television broadcast, secondly, through a radio broadcast, which has also been prolonged. Previously, TV debates were held two weeks before early voting, now, right before the early voting. Airtime for TV debates will be extended if there are more than five candidates. Previously, they had only one hour, regardless of the number. All this increases the candidates’ time on the air, which is free of charge”.
In fact, only minor details have changed. The broadcast time for alternative candidates has not changed – twice for half an hour on television, twice for half an hour in the morning broadcast of the state radio, one publication of their election programmes in the state newspapers and one more appearance on TV during a TV debate. The only difference is that in the past the candidates had two weeks to make their addresses on TV and radio, while now they have four weeks in total – two to appear on TV and another two for the radio address.
Extending TV debates by half an hour if there are more than five candidates will not de facto increase their airtime, since it is already clear there would not be fewer than five candidates – not all of them are coping with collecting the required number of signatures. Meanwhile, Lukashenka has already announced that he will not take part in the TV debates.
That said, the announced "increased presence" of candidates in the media is de facto not what it seems. Actually, amid low activity of the potential candidates and generally low-profile of the 2015 election campaign, the CEC could have increased the candidates’ airtime, however, decided not to.
The state TV (in fact, there is no other TV accessible throughout the country) provides almost no coverage for alternative candidates. When covering the upcoming elections, the state TV shows pickets by candidates, but not the potential candidates, even though Tatsiana Korotkevich and Anatol Lyabedzka are actively involved in collecting signatures for their nomination as candidates. News clips also say nothing about other alternative candidates. In fact, the state TV talks very little about the upcoming elections: only one piece a day without mentioning the potential candidates.
Overall, despite the low political activity of the population, the authorities do not take any steps to increase the presence of alternative candidates in the media.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.