Parliament: Constancy with minimal changes

Andrei Kazakevich

Summary

The key political result of the year testified to the constancy of the political architecture: only ruling party candidates entered the parliament while the opposition is still not presented there. According to the results of the elections the administration of the parliament remained almost unchanged.

At the same time the comparison of a new structure of the parliament with the previous ones shows some new tendencies. Firstly, measures for considerable renewal of the deputy body were taken – the share of the deputies re-elected for the following term became the lowest in the whole history of the House of Representatives. Secondly, the political structure of the parliament changed. The majority of mandates were obtained by representatives of the public association Belaya Rus. Also, in the lower house of parliament, for the first time since 2004, a parliamentary group was created. The results of the elections also showed a further decline of the traditional political structures loyal to the authorities, in particular, the Communist Party of Belarus (CPB). Also the increase of the number of middle-level leaders in the parliament should be noted, as well as the insignificant rejuvenation of the structure.

Legislative activity went on within the framework of the accepted rules of the game. Deputies initiated only one bill, the rest was submitted to the parliament by the Council of Ministers or (rarely) by the president. All draft laws submitted for discussion were approved by deputies, and all decrees of the president were adopted as well.

2012 was marked by an overall decrease in foreign policy activity, which can be explained not only by foreign policy isolation, but also by the preparation for elections.

Trends:

Undoubtedly, the most important event in 2012 for the parliament was the elections. Their political results cannot be called unexpected (as the results of any parliamentary campaign since 1995) – all mandates were given to the candidates appointed by executive structures. Nevertheless, the analysis of the deputy body gives the chance to record certain tendencies which distinguish the new structure of the parliament from previous, which can testify to the attempts to transform the principle of its formation and political role.

Before the elections of 2012, as well as in previous 2008, there were a lot of rumors about a possible political reform, in particular, the creation of the ruling party on the basis of the public association Belaya Rus. 1 For various reasons this did not materialize, however, when it is possible to call the results of the 2008 elections conservative according to the majority of parameters (the structure of the deputy body, collective activity of deputies, etc.), in 2012 certain innovations are noticeable, though it is hard to say whether they will lead to essential changes of the role and political functions of this legislative body.

Renewal of membership

A considerable renewal of the deputy body can be called the first noteworthy fact. According to the results of the elections of 2012 only 21 deputies (19.1%) kept their mandates, which is the highest level of rotation in the whole history of the House of Representatives. Following the results of the previous elections the number of re-elected deputies ranged from 27% to 40% of the total number (see Table 1). It means that the statements about the need to renew the legislature were fulfilled (at least formally), and some concern in the decrease of political mobility led to the attempt to change the principle of parliament formation though the events of 2012 do not allow drawing conclusions whether it will have significant political effects.

2000 2000 2004 2008 2012
2000 2004 2008 2012
Share of the re-elected deputies 33.6% 40.0% 27.3% 19.1%
Table 1. The share of the deputies re-elected to a new term of the total number of the deputy body
Changes of the political structure

Except for the level of rotation the changes in political structure of the parliament should be noted. Creation of the “Ruling Party” did not happen for various reasons; nevertheless, influences of the corresponding projects can be observed in new membership of the deputy body. Following the results of the elections 63 representatives of the public association Belaya Rus or 57.3% of the total number became deputies. 2 Thus, the representatives of this political organization are connected with the common hierarchy outside the parliament, which is rather a new situation for Belarus.

Beside this, following the results of the elections of 2012 there was a final decline of the traditional party structures which had been observed since 2000 – only five representatives of parties entered the parliament, which is the lowest indicator for the whole modern history. The results finally recorded the end of the attempts to create the noticeable political organization on the basis of the Communist Party of Belarus (CPB) which, according to repute, in the middle of the 2000s was considered as a possible basis of a ruling party. The CPB received only three mandates (in 2008 – six), one seat in the parliament was obtained by representatives of the Belarusian Agrarian Party (AP) and the Republican Party of Labor and Justice each (see Table 2).

2000 2004 2008 2012
Representatives of the parties 13.6 10.9 6.4 4.55
CPB 5.5 7.3 5.5 2.7
AP 3.6 2.7 0.9 0.9
Table 2. Parties in the House of Representatives, %

During the first session of the House of Representatives there was one more essential innovation in the parliamentary activity. On December 12, 2012 the deputy group “Initiative” was first created for the last eight years. At the beginning of the 2000s efforts to create political and non-political deputy groups in the parliament were rather active. Moreover, even the oppositional party – “Republic” was formed. But after the elections of 2004 this practice stopped, and until 2012 parliamentary groups as a form of collective activity of deputies had not been formed.

The political basis of a new deputy group is rather visible through the person of the chairman Mikalai Ivanchanka – the former director general of Belresursy concern, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, and also the Assistant to the President, Minsk region chief inspector. 3

The aims of the deputy group proclaimed by the founders are mainly connected with the solution of local problems of social and economic development of small towns and rural settlements, coordination of legislative and control activity of deputies. At the time of creation there were 21 members in the group and Minsk region as a regional basis.

The level of position and the area

Some changes are observed at the level of positions which became a step to the deputy mandate. The share of those who got into the parliament from the position of a chief/deputy chief considerably reduced and made about 68.2% (this indicator for 2000–2008 ranged 78–83%). The number of those recruited from senior positions of the middle level (chiefs of departments and structural divisions, etc.) rose to 28.4% (in 2000–2008 it had been 13–20%). At the same time the share of ordinary employees remained marginal.

The area and sectoral profile of the new deputy body remained almost unchanged – the executive chain of command and the production sphere (19.1% and 14.6% respectively) have the greatest importance. Following the results of the elections of 2012 functionaries of local councils of different levels got quite a good representation – six deputies against zero to three in 2000–2008. Also a significant growth of those who came from defense and law enforcement agencies provides certain interest: 10 deputy mandates (in 2004–2008 there were 1–4 deputies), since 2000 the number of representatives from the educational system has steadily grown – from 4.6% to 13.6%.

Age structure

Principally the age structure of the parliament remained the same though there were some changes which distinguish the elections of 2012 from the previous ones. The common important trend of the development of the parliament under the conditions of authoritarianism was a considerable increase in age and in particular the increase of the number of persons aged 51–60. Usually it was connected with the general decrease of the parliamentary role in politics and mobility bonds. In the 1990s the parliament was an important pool of candidates for the highest positions in office, while in the 2000s it became more and more a place of completion of one’s career, very often as a form of honorable pension. Following the results of the elections of 2012 persons aged 51–60 made up 58.2% of the deputy body, which is slightly less than in the House of Representatives of the previous convocation but all the same it is much higher than any other age group (see Fig. 3). 4

The representation of persons aged 41–50 in comparison with 2008 did not change (24.6%). But it should be noted that the number of deputies aged 31–40 doubled, which can testify to the attempt of rejuvenation of the structure.

Figure 1. Age structure of the deputy body, %
Changes in the administration

The highest administration of the parliament kept their positions. Uladzimir Andreichanka, the chairman of the House of Representatives stayed, and his deputy Viktar Huminski also stayed. The position of the chairman of the upper house of the parliament was again given to Anatol Rubinau, only the position of his deputy was taken by a new person – Anatol Rusetski (the Minister of Industry in 2003–2009; since 2010 he was Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus).

At the level of the chairmen of the commissions changes were of a more considerable character. Out of 14 constant commissions of the House of Representatives only Siarhei Kanoplich (the Commission on questions of ecology, environmental management and the Chernobyl catastrophe) managed to keep his position, former deputies headed three more commissions. It is necessary to point out that while the deputies from regions prevail in the parliament, the positions of the commissions heads are generally taken by the deputies who beforehand had taken the positions at regional or national levels.

Legislative activity

Legislative activity of the parliament generally was characterized by a habitual mode. The House of Representatives of the fourth convocation held two regular sessions (the final one before the elections lasted only one month) the first session after the elections was held by the new membership of the parliament.

In total the process of law adoption went on according to the rules defined after the consolidation of the authoritative regime. Deputies’ activity in initiation of laws remained low, which entirely corresponds to the tradition of the last years. During 2012 deputies initiated only one bill On changes and amendments to some codes of the Republic of Belarus concerning jurisdiction of military courts which was approved in second reading. The absolute majority of other bills were initiated by the Councils of Ministers, considerably less – by the president. All draft laws that were submitted to the House of Representatives, were approved. All decrees of the president directed to the parliament were also taken into account.

The established procedure missed only one obvious mark. In May 2012 the parliament adopted the law On changes and amendments to the law of the Republic of Belarus “On employment of the population of the Republic of Belarus”, prepared by the Council of Ministers. The law was not signed by the president and it was returned to the parliament. This rather exceptional case made deputies consider the law again, agree with the president’s remarks and reject the statutory act.

The laws adopted in 2012 affected different spheres of society. Probably, the most considerable block was connected with the regulation of economic relations: the state innovation policy, commercial secrecy, stock market regulation, bankruptcy, changes in the tax and land code, adoption of the housing code, etc. Also the attention was paid to the questions of social protection: pensions, social privileges and payments, etc. The separate body of regulation acts touched upon the regulation of activity of government bodies: Investigative Committee, House of Representatives and Council of the Republic, KGB, courts, Ministries of Internal Affairs, etc.

International activity

The year 2012 cannot possibly be called active with regard to international activity of the parliament, which is related not only with the foreign policy isolation, but also with the preparation for the elections. In most cases the restrictions from the West connected with the increased foreign policy isolation of Belarus after 2010 remained the same, the interparliamentary relations with Russia generally stayed the same, and the activity in Third World countries was not stepped up.

Communication of parliamentary representative towards the EU passed mainly along the OSCE. Deputies took part in the winter meeting of the Parliamentary assembly of the OSCE (in February) and the annual session of this organization (in July). Furthermore, the representatives of the Belarusian parliament interacted with the representatives of the OSCE during the organization of election monitoring in 2012.

Traditionally the Belarusian parliament made critical remarks about the Western countries and organizations for their unbalanced and tendentious estimates of the political and legal situation in Belarus, and also the non-democratic character of elections. The position was expressed in mass media including different international venues. In particular, reacting to the resolution of the European Parliament on the Belarusian situation (on July 5, 2012) the Standing Commission on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media of the House of Representatives stated their “regret that the contents of the resolution misinform the European and world community, forming in their eyes the idea about our country as undemocratic” 5. But in general the reaction of the parliament to external criticism can be described as being reserved.

The relations with Russia developed mainly in typical parliamentary ways. Belarusian deputies took part in regular work of Parliamentary Meeting of the Union of Belarus and Russia, and also in different joint conferences and seminars. The visit of Sergey Naryshkin, the Chairman of the State Duma of Russia to Minsk in June 2012 became the most essential event at the level of parliamentary contacts.

In June 2012 Belarus was visited by the chairman of the Moldavian parliament, and also by a delegation of the Cambodian parliament. All other interparliamentary visits were of a lower status: the delegation of the Iranian parliament was at the level of the head of the female fraction; the visit of representatives of the National All Chinese People’s Congress at the level of the vice-chairman of the committee.

Belarusian parliamentarians also paid official visits to some countries, but the level of delegations also was not high. The Belarusian delegation under the leadership of the vice-chairman of the House of Representatives Viktar Huminski visited Armenia, and the delegations headed by the chairmen of the commissions visited Moldova and Vietnam.

During the year the administration of the parliament met representatives of many countries, but the majority of these contacts were with ambassadors and of a legal or anniversary character: Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, China, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, etc.

During the year Belarusian parliamentarians took part in work of various international and regional parliamentary structures: Interparliamentary Assembly of the ASEAN (as an observer), World Assembly of the Interparliamentary Union, Interparliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community, Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. Belarusian parliamentarians also took part in observance of elections in Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.

Conclusion

The development of the parliament in 2012 to a certain extent reflects the attempts to reform its role and the principle of its formation: a considerable renewal of the deputy body was carried out, the political organization of deputies was changed, there was an increase of the number of heads of the middle level, etc. Nevertheless it is hard to say whether the carried-out changes will cause a transformation of functions and the parliament’s role. Probably, they will remain exclusively formal. It should be noted that following the results of the elections the highest administration of the parliament remained practically unchanged.

For the rest the parliament’s activity corresponded to the rules established after 1996. In the legislative process the parliament consistently sticks to a certain role which provides completion and adoption of the bills developed by the government or Presidential Administration. The activity of deputies in initiation of new laws is insignificant.

In 2012 the foreign policy activity of the parliament slightly dampened, which can be explained by the continuation of foreign policy isolation and exhaustion of alternative directions of the activity, and by the preparation for the elections.