Electoral campaigns: the ruling regime is growing stronger amid lack of alternative in ballots
On February 14, 2019, the website of the expert community of Belarus “Our Opinion” and Press Club Belarus held a session of the Expert-Analytical Club entitled “Who will participate in the elections and why?”
Belarusian politicians involved in the two-hour discussion were Vital Rymaseuski, co-chairman of the organizing committee of the party Belarusian Christian Democracy, Alieh Hajdukievic, deputy chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, Tacciana Karatkievic and Andrej Dzmitryjeu, leaders of the Tell the Truth campaign, Jury Hubarevic, chairman of the For Freedom movement, and Anatol Liabiedzka, former chairman of the United Civic Party. The experts, for their part, were asking them questions and sought to clarify some obscure issues.
The panelists attempted to answer the following questions:
1. What are the maximum and minimum goals set by the parties in the upcoming election campaigns?
2. What will determine their achievement?
3. How will society and/or the state change after the conclusion of the election campaigns?
During the discussion, the Chatham House Rule was in effect, which rules out direct quotation and revelation of the identities and affiliation of the speakers.
In accordance with the Electoral Code, the next presidential election in Belarus must be held by August 30, 2020, and the elections to the House of Representatives are to be conducted by September 10, 2020. The exact timeframe for the campaigns has not been established, but head of the Central Election Commission Lidzija Jarmo?yna is known to be willing to separate these electoral campaigns as much as possible. Presumably in April, President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, in his message to the National Assembly, will share his opinion on this matter. It is assumed that one of the campaigns may start in the autumn of 2019 so that the ballot day is held at the start of 2020.
The Belarusian politicians were divided as to which campaign would be the first one. Most speakers suggested that the parliamentary elections would be held first and the presidential election would follow, but the two would hardly be conducted simultaneously. At the same time, an opinion was voiced that the presidential election would be held first.
Some speakers said the sequence of the campaigns was an irrelevant issue, whereas others believe that this factor will be important for the ruling regime to determine whether or not opposition members will be allowed into the next House of Representatives.
Specifically, one of the panelists said that if the parliamentary elections were held before the presidential campaign, the authorities could choose to deny the opposition any seats in the parliament, so that they are unable to employ their status for the more important presidential campaign. If the order is reversed, after the guaranteed re-election of the incumbent, the ruling regime might as well grant several seats to its political opponents or independent candidates at the subsequent parliamentary elections.
The speakers said that the electoral campaign was always unpredictable at least to some extent and, accordingly, they had no intention to give up on even the slightest chance to come to power. At the same time, the hope of obtaining mandates – the maximum goal – was associated for most political leaders with the parliamentary, rather than the presidential campaign.
The panelists are planning to use both electoral campaigns for their organizational development, party development or, for example, for turning the right-centrist coalition (UCP, BCD and For Freedom) into the pivot of the united opposition – in case of success at the primaries – as a procedure for identifying a single candidate of the democratic forces.
The minimum goals include, according to the panelists, lobbying for amendments to applicable legislation, drawing attention to the current problems (nationwide or those pertaining to certain groups of interests) with a simultaneous proposal of specific resolution mechanisms. Depending on the political profile, the speakers expressed their intention to support these activities either by staging street protests, or by collecting signatures, or by nominating strong candidates for seats in the parliament who have been working long enough in districts and whose higher popularity as against any possible alternative is beyond doubt.
The mission of a presidential candidate who intends to seek victory in the long run should be considered individually – under the circumstances, he will help his associates to get publicity during the parliamentary campaign (if the presidential election should be held ahead of the parliamentary campaign).
Overall, the panelists voiced the opinion that, despite the fact that the results of the electoral campaigns are a “foregone conclusion”, it was in the course of the elections that additional opportunities would open up for legal public policy. An opinion was voiced that the absence of an alternative in the ballots will help the ruling regime grow stronger (supporters of a boycott or those ignoring the elections did not take part in the discussion).
The role of active election monitoring was emphasized by representatives of the organizations involved in the Right of Choicecampaign. One of the tasks they set themselves is to delegitimize the outcomes of the elections. An opinion was expressed that without any monitoring organized by the opposition, the Belarusian ruling regime could achieve their recognition by Western partners.
Recorded by Pavel Bykovsky