Belarusian authorities keen to avoid repeat scenario of 2010 elections

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April 22, 2016 18:56

The Liberal Democratic Party’s call to hold early presidential elections should prompt the opposition to nominate a "single candidate" and limit the number of candidates. While preparing for the 2015 elections, the Belarusian leadership will be cautious not to repeat the 2010 elections scenario, which caused a deep rift within Belarusian society and thrust Belarus into deeper international isolation. The Belarusian government is unlikely to consider holding presidential elections at an early date.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has appealed to the President, the Parliament and the Central Election Commission to hold early presidential elections in Belarus: in March – April 2015.

The next presidential elections in Belarus should take place no later than November 20th, 2015. In the past, presidential electoral campaigns have taken place in summer/autumn of 2001, in winter/spring of 2006, and autumn/winter of 2010. Elections have been called earlier than expected several times. However, the timing had little effect, if any, on the official results announced by the Central Election Commission.

Amid falling incomes in Belarus, President Lukashenko’s electoral rating remains high at 39.8% (IISEPS polls). Events in Ukraine and the growing instability in the region due to the Kremlin’s aggressive policy has fuelled Belarusians’ demand for a strong leader who can guarantee political stability and meet their socio-economic needs. 

The Liberal Democratic Party describes itself as a “constructive” opposition to the current government. Its leader, Sergei Gaidukevich, has twice run for the presidential office. Many experts believe he is President Lukashenko’s sparring partner. In 2010, Gaidukevich withdrew from the presidential race at the nomination stage. Back then, there were several candidates offering different programmes. This divided the opposition electorate, and the differences between the opposition parties ultimately prevented them from adopting the joint strategy of boycott. Meanwhile, pro-Russian views and loyalty towards the LDP leader may have attracted some Lukashenko supporters who felt a change in leadership was overdue. 

In 2015, the authorities would like to avoid situations from the 2010 presidential campaign, such as numerous candidates who took citizens out into the streets on election day, unable to control them, and the subsequent crackdown on protesters by the security forces. The authorities’ heavy-handed  actions caused a deep rift in Belarusian society and frustrated dialogue with the West, while the monetary and financial crisis and the bomb explosion in the Minsk subway made matters worse. 

For the Belarusian leadership, the events in Kiev in late 2013 – early 2014, while more tragic, bore a similarity to those in Minsk in 2010 as the systemic opposition had little effect, in their view. The Belarusian authorities fear that if the 2010 scenario repeats in Minsk, it could trigger a crisis of governance, which, amid instability in the region and the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions, could lead to undesired developments in the “Ukrainian style.” 

In the 2015 presidential elections, the Belarusian authorities would like to see a limited number of candidates with moderate rhetoric, who would be able to control their electorate. The Deputy Chairman of the LDP party, Gaidukevich junior underscored, “Sergei Gaidukevich and Lukashenko will be the candidates, and as soon as the elections are announced, the opposition will accelerate, hold their Congress in the same week (we’ll help to accelerate them) and nominate a candidate from the opposition. Maybe they will fail to agree among themselves – then we’ll have two candidates from the opposition. We do not believe there will be anybody else.” 

The Belarusian authorities care more about preventing a repeat of the 2010 election scenario, than they care about the elections’ timing. They are ready to reduce pressure on the opposition in order to narrow the divide in Belarusian society ahead of the 2015 presidential elections in exchange for less radical rhetoric by the opposition.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.