Instead of the political system’s upgrade, Lukashenko offers an update

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April 22, 2016 18:20

The Belarusian President’s main goal is to preserve the existing political system. “Modernization” rhetoric is used to control the ambitions of some officials and partially as a PR campaign towards the West.

On October 11th, President Lukashenko spoke before the outgoing Parliament of 4th convocation and made a number of statements about modernization of the political system.

The main message in Lukashenko’s address was the demand to preserve the existing political system. In other words, the President is not willing to change the Parliament’s role in the current “balance of powers” and in the coming years will not undertake a reform of the current majoritarian system.

Fractional parliament could become a threat to the government and the presidential administration, i.e. the de facto legislative power in Belarus. In addition, fractional Parliament is associated with very unpleasant memories from the “unstable 1990s”, when Lukashenko faced a real impeachment threat, and eventually dissolved the Supreme Council.

However, the authorities are under pressure from Belarusian nomenklatura, united around quango “Belaya Rus”. This organization lists 131,364 members, and in the new parliament 63 deputies out of 109 are “Belaya Rus” members. The President cannot simply ignore the interests of this influential group, but he is not prepared to make concessions either, where the main ones would be translation of the “Belaya Rus” into a political party and a corresponding electoral reform.

Therefore Lukashenko wants to reduce “Belaya Rus” appetites and offers to create competition among political parties in Belarus for appearances’ sake, without reforming the political system. On October 8th, the President made such a proposal to the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus Mr. Karpenko. The President said he was ready to support the patriotic party. At the same time, Lukashenko has not yet met with the “Belaya Rus” activists, while welcoming its possible transformation into a party.

If successful, such sparring with the Communists will keep the nomenclature from “Belaya Rus” busy at least until the next presidential election in 2015 and will temporarily keep applicants from “Belaya Rus” away from the President. Support, promised by the state to parties, is unlikely to entail the creation of favourable conditions; it rather implies the elimination of previously created barriers. Namely, office rent rates could be reduced, or a “green light” could be given for the organization of public events, or increased information support in the state media, etc.

If properly organized, such cosmetic changes could be presented in the West as a step towards genuine political pluralism and competitive democracy. It would change nothing for the opposition parties, but the potential increase in the country’s political activity if this plan was implemented could objectively improve voter’s interest in politics and, theoretically, the opposition could take advantage of it.

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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.