Saturday 18 May 2024 | 22:38

Elections in Belarus: The authorities gave themselves time to improve the electoral miasma

22.07.2016  |  Politics
Elections in Belarus: The authorities gave themselves time to improve the electoral miasma

These elections are interesting for two reasons: to see if any oppositionists get elected, however unlikely it is, and see how regime keeps power and elite support with the shrinking Russian economy.

There was little protest during the 2015 presidential elections. Elections are not elections as such, but became more a self-appointment of Lukashenka through an electoral façade. Yet the elections were peaceful and the opposition called for concord during the elections.

Peaceful elections and a democratic façade allowed the EU to maintain the fiction that the Belarusian regime was changing. This coupled with the Ukraine situation allowed the EU to tolerate and work with the authorities. Will the 2016 parliamentary elections, on 11 September, continue this trend?

The economy continues to fall

The collapse of the oil price has caused significant repercussions in the Belarusian economy, creating a situation where the regime cannot maintain its social contract with the populace. Belstat showed that the economy is decreasing as exports fell by 20 percent in January 2016 compared with January 2015.

This belt tightening brought on by the limping economy saw a seven percent reduction in government spending. An Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) poll emphasised public displeasure with the regime with 60 percent seeing Belarus as going in the wrong direction, 15 percent doubting that the situation will change and 47 percent blaming Lukashenka for the failure.

Opposition united…or not?

The economic situation remains a reason why the Parliamentary elections could maintain the same changes as the 2015 Presidential elections. Another aspect concerns the opposition.

In early January 2016 centre-right parties and associations, such as the United Civil Party, Belarusian Christian Democracy and the For Freedom movement formed a coalition. This signifies a new phenomenon, namely that a part of the opposition has united on an ideological basis. Former presidential hopeful Mikola Statkevich has begun to organise an opposition congress too.

On 21 June opposition groups, such as the Belarusian Social Democratic Party – Hramada and the United Civil Party, from across the political spectrum agreed to coordinate some efforts. Under the agreement, signatures will be collected together; candidates nominated and the parties will work together at the electoral commissions to prevent fraud. 300 candidates will be put forward for elections.

Yet, Tatsiana Karatkevich and her ‘Tell the Truth’ organisation are still ostracised by most of the opposition due to their alleged cosy relationship with the regime. The Belarusian Conservative Christian Party and its exiled leader Zianon Pazniak hasn’t joined the alliance. It rejects engaging with the regime.

Hugging the West at arm’s length

With the Ukraine crisis and the decline of the Russian economy, the Belarusian authorities have been on the hunt for new allies. The regime has promoted Belarusian national identity to distance itself from Russia. The Belarusian authorities have looked to the European Union (EU) due to Ukraine and a weakening Russian economy. The EU has also welcomed a chance to isolate Russia.

This has led to a strange game of cat and mouse. The EU having ended sanctions on the Belarusian regime cannot enforce them again without losing face. At the same time the Belarusian regime cannot be seen to be making baby steps towards democratisation for fear of having sanctions reapplied and so has to provide a façade of democratisation. Both sides cannot afford to blink first.

Both sides decided that the nascent relationship is worth maintaining. While the Belarusian regime will not engage in a significant evolution towards EU values, both sides know that any affiliation is better than the nonentity that existed after 2010. The EU was less vocal in 2015 than in the past on electoral falsifications and potentially it could continue this approach in 2016.

Regime preparations

The authorities have been preparing for the elections, using them to maintain the democratic disguise, while preserving total control over the outcome. Two months is a long time and the opposition often fall out with one another. Mutual suspicion and competition for access to limited resources could end any unity.

Many predictions have been made that the Belarusian economy will collapse bringing about Lukashenka’s fall. Lukashenka knows this, and as the juggler par excellence, has survived such scenarios before. Having won the Presidential election the regime is probably safe, but with a falling economy maintaining the social contract and using coercion becomes that much harder to pay for. This weakens the regime.

The authorities have given themselves time to enhance tactics for maintaining the electoral miasma. Currently, parliamentary candidates are registering. This will last until July 7. However, the central electoral commission has until August 10 to approve candidates. Enough time to weed out candidates too independent for the regime.

Belaya Rus’ has been mobilized for its main task of collecting signatures for pro-government candidates. With the help of administrative resources it will likely return 10 times the number of signatures required, so as to emphasize public support for regime applicants. Other GONGOS like the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU), the Federation of Labour-Unions of Belarus (FPB) and the unions of women and veterans have been mobilized to increase regime control.

Important elections?

In the 2015 presidential elections, the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies calculated that Lukashenka’s actual winning vote margin was 50.8 percent, somewhat different than the official 83.5 percent.

With a collapsing economy, the authorities will find it harder to maintain elite support. With lower rents from the economy the authorities may find it harder to pay security services personnel and give other elites access to rents. However, even such obvious fraud is unlikely to lead to possible protests and violence because people in Belarus are scared of the repeat of the Ukraine post-revolution scenario.

The regime has looked for associations with other states and international organisations away from Russia fearing a possible Crimean scenario. While unlikely any encroachment on Lukashenka’s power is treated with suspicion.

However closer affiliation with the EU will mean that Belarus cannot support its economy as the EU cannot subsidize Belarus. The authorities are left with dependence on Russia. But if it stays with the shrinking Russian economy, the regime will find it harder to maintain power and elite support.

Early voting among state workers and students will be invoked. This will allow the authorities to falsify these votes ensuring the authorities of victory before the elections. However these elections are interesting for two reasons.

Firstly, to see if any opposition politicians get elected to Parliament, although such a scenario remains unlikely and secondly, to see how the regime squares the circle of maintaining proximity to Russia, while softening its stance with the EU. The juggler has yet another act to perform.

Originally published at BelarusDigest

Stephen Hall, BelarusDigest

Other news section «Politics»

Andrei Yahorau — Al Jazeera: “Lukashenko is irresponsible”
Andrei Yahorau — Al Jazeera: “Lukashenko is irresponsible”
He said Belarus would likely face economic tightening not only as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but also a Russian trade oil crisis that worsened this past winter.
Shhh! Belarus Wants You to Think It’s Turning Over a New Leaf
Shhh! Belarus Wants You to Think It’s Turning Over a New Leaf
Minsk’s muddled media clampdown could jeopardize warming of relations with the West.
Statement of the BNP in connection with the wave of searches in the editorial offices of the Belarus
Statement of the BNP in connection with the wave of searches in the editorial offices of the Belarus
The Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF issued a statement in connection with the wave of searches in the editorial offices of the Belarusan media and the detention of journalists.
Statement of the Belarusan EaP CSF National Platform on solidarity with the civil society of Armenia
Statement of the Belarusan EaP CSF National Platform on solidarity with the civil society of Armenia
The Belarusan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum issued a statement on solidarity with the civil society of Armenia.
"Vilnius Consultations": Key points and recommendations on the future of EU Eastern Partnership
"Vilnius Consultations": Key points and recommendations on the future of EU Eastern Partnership
On September 11, the inaugural „Vilnius Consultations“ conference was organized by Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis and Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
From farewell to a new Eastern policy and towards a new development
From farewell to a new Eastern policy and towards a new development
Poland and Germany were both initiators and drivers of a New Eastern policy linked to the Eastern neighborhood and Russia/Soviet Union.
Uladzimir Matskevich: The sooner the "Union State" is denounced, the better for Belarus
Uladzimir Matskevich: The sooner the "Union State" is denounced, the better for Belarus
Not only does the "Union State" undermine the establishment of civilized relations with Europe, but it hinders the possibility of normal relations between Belarus and Russia.
Uladzimir Matskevich: The regime can no longer control the situation in the country
Uladzimir Matskevich: The regime can no longer control the situation in the country
The authorities are unable to prolong the social contract with the people: there is no way out of the social crisis.
Press release in connection with the dialogue in the format of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group
Press release in connection with the dialogue in the format of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group
Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF welcomes the dialogue process in the format of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group, the third round of which was held in Minsk on 3-4 April 2017.
Statement of the BNP in connection with the events of March 25-26, 2017 in Minsk and other Belarusan
Statement of the BNP in connection with the events of March 25-26, 2017 in Minsk and other Belarusan
Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF issued a statement in connection with the events of March 25-26, 2017 in Minsk and other Belarusan cities.
Statement by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum on mass repressions in Belarus
Statement by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum on mass repressions in Belarus
The EaP CSF Steering Committee issued a statement on repressions against civil society activists and journalists in Belarus, in view of the demonstrations planned on 25 March 2017.
Uladzimir Matskevich: Belarus-Ukraine relations need to be re-established
Uladzimir Matskevich: Belarus-Ukraine relations need to be re-established
"Case of Zhadan" demonstrated that Belarus does not actually have a clear policy - neither domestic nor foreign.
Belarus
Belarus's Lukashenko alleges “fifth column” plot as unrest continues
Belarusan President Lukashenko said on Tuesday a “fifth column” was plotting to overthrow him with the help of foreign-backed fighters, days before a planned street protest in Minsk against a new tax.
In Belarus, a rising fear: Will we be the next Ukraine?
In Belarus, a rising fear: Will we be the next Ukraine?
The relationship between Russia and Belarus has never been an easy one.
Andrei Yahorau: European window of opportunity is slowly closing, relations take form of fatigue
Andrei Yahorau: European window of opportunity is slowly closing, relations take form of fatigue
The Belarusian regime is not able to pursue a truly multi-vector policy, and the EU cannot decide what it needs in the region on the whole and from Belarus in particular.
Uladzimir Matskevich: Today Belarus is in a very difficult situation
Uladzimir Matskevich: Today Belarus is in a very difficult situation
But even under the circumstances the authorities have various ways out.
Uladzimir Matskevich: Lukashenka does not disrupt Russian plans to annex Belarus
Uladzimir Matskevich: Lukashenka does not disrupt Russian plans to annex Belarus
But Lukashenka is afraid for his fate and position - he needs Belarus to be sovereign to fully exercise his power.
Andrei Yeliseyeu: Russia is taking drastic unconstructive steps  
Andrei Yeliseyeu: Russia is taking drastic unconstructive steps  
There should be no actual passport control for the Belarusians arriving in Russia within the framework of the existing Belarusian-Russian agreements.
Uladzimir Matskevich: Visa-free regime is not a political concession to the West
Uladzimir Matskevich: Visa-free regime is not a political concession to the West
It is a process of normalization of Belarus-EU relations. Belarus just fulfils its international commitments.
Andrei Yahorau: Belarusian regime is self-improving, the only threat so far is the economy crisis
Andrei Yahorau: Belarusian regime is self-improving, the only threat so far is the economy crisis
Political analyst emphasizes that Belarus is the first modern authoritarianism in the European space, a phenomenon not yet studied by anyone.
Gintautas Mažeikis: The relation of political field and arena in the framework of information war

In his report, philosopher Gintautas Mažeikis discusses several concepts that have been a part of the European social and philosophical thought for quite a time.

“It is our big joint work”

It is impossible to change life in cities just in three years (the timeline of the “Agenda 50” campaign implementation). But changing the structure of relationships in local communities is possible.

Shhh! Belarus Wants You to Think It’s Turning Over a New Leaf

Minsk’s muddled media clampdown could jeopardize warming of relations with the West.

Mikhail Matskevich: How to create a local agenda and make it a problem solving tool

To achieve changes, you need to be interested in them and stop pinning all hopes on the state.