Parliament: Growing a new political field

Andrei Kazakevich

Summary

The 2019 elections showed a tendency to increase the representation of parties in the Parliament and the political diversity of the Parliament. The main trend was the growth of a new political spectrum from public and political structures created on the basis of executive bodies, budget organizations and state-owned enterprises. At the same time, the number of representatives of the executive structures and that of the production sector decreased.

Representatives of alternative political forces and public organizations lost their representation. As a result, a political palette of the newly elected Parliament consists of a politically unstructured majority and 19% of the similar parties representing a far-left political spectrum. All exceptions are isolated and episodic.

In comparison with 2017–2018, the activity of deputies on the international arena and in initiating laws decreased, while the presence of representatives of the Parliament in the public space remained quite high.

Trends:
In search of a new political role for the Parliament

Since 1996, when executive and partly legislative powers have been concentrated in the hands of the President, the problem of determining the political role of the Parliament remains. This is why the Belarusian Parliament was a place for experimenting with its composition and its role in the public space and law-making process during last two decades. On cannot say that the top management has a clear plan, but in recent years measures have been taken to activate the political functions of the representative body.

In 2004–2012, the House of Representatives clearly developed as a place for honorable retirement of regional leaders. The trend was clearly visible after the 2004 elections and was most vivid in 2008, when the share of deputies over 50 years old reached 69 people (63.0% of the total membership), and the share of party representatives fell to a historical minimum in independent Belarus – 4.6%.

Since 2012, the development of the Deputy corps has been in the direction of greater political diversity and less importance of the executive vertical. These changes, however, remain slow and inconsistent. The results of the 2019 elections can be interpreted as another attempt to find a new political role for the Parliament. In contrast to 2016, the winning trend was not the gradual co-optation of alternative forces, but the desire to construct their own political spectrum. As a result, the political diversity of the Parliament increased, but representatives of alternative forces were excluded from it.

Growth of party representation

The most notable political outcome of the election was a further increase in party representation. As a result of the elections, the share of party deputies reached the maximum since the 1995 elections – 19% (21 people). As can be seen from the diagram, the representation of parties in the Parliament decreased from 2000 to 2012 and started to grow only in 2016 (see Diagram 1). The same can be said about the number of parties in the Parliament. Thus, the Parliament is becoming more and more politically organized and diverse, at least from a formal point of view.

Diagram 1. Share of party members in parliamentary elections, 1995–2019, %

The best success, as in all other elections since 2000, was the representatives of the Communist Party of Belarus (CPB), who received 11 seats,1 while three Communists were re-elected. Based on the composition of elected deputies, the CBB is formed in close conjunction with administrative and budgetary structures based on executive committees, educational institutions, local councils and the BRSM.

Out of eleven Communist deputies, four come from the executive vertical of power, three were heads in educational institutions, two headed district councils of deputies, and two were regional functionaries of the BRSM before the 2019 elections (Siarhei Klishevich and Natalia Holub). At the same time, none of the top management of the CPB is represented in the Parliament.

The second place was taken by the Republican Party of Labor and Justice (RPLJ), six deputies out of them were elected, three of them were re-elected. This significant increase in parliamentary representation can be seen as an attempt to grow another left-wing political force which would be more focused on working with trade unions and businesses. However, the real potential of the party does not seem high. At least, it is difficult to assess it due to almost no noticeable activity in the inter-election period.

Among the deputies from the RPLJ, two previously held senior positions at enterprises, one – in the Executive Committee (Committee on Labor, Employment and Social Protection), one was the head of an educational institution, one headed Drahičyn District Council of deputies and one was a trade union activist of Belaruskalij. The party leadership, as in the case of the CPB, is not represented in Parliament.

Among other parties, the result was as follows: the Belarusian Patriotic Party – two seats, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Agrarian Party – one from each. It was probably sensational that representatives of the opposition and civil society independent of the state did not get a single seat in the Parliament, although the authorities gave signals about the possibility of electing several people immediately before the elections. Thus, the experiment of minimal parliamentary representation of the opposition, which was started in the House of Representatives through the election of Hanna Kanapackaja (United Civil Party) and Aliena Anisim (Association of the Belarusian Language), was not continued (see Table 1).

  2016 2019
Communist Party of Belarus 8 (+5) 11 (+3)
Republican Party of Labor and Justice 3 (+2) 6 (+3)
The Belarusian Patriotic Party 3 (+3) 2 (–1)
Agrarian Party 0 1 ( +1)
Liberal Democratic Party 1 1 (+0)
United Civil Party 1 0 (–1)
Table 1. Changes in party representation as a result of elections to the House of Representatives of the sixth and seventh convocations2

Despite the formal growth of party representation and the diversity of the Parliament, there are doubts about how successful the proposed political model is in terms of representing the political mood of the society. Out of 21 party deputies, 19 represent far-left organizations with minimal ideological differences. All are characterized by support for state economic management, state property, preservation of the Soviet economic and cultural heritage, and anti-Western, anti-liberal and pro-Russian rhetoric.

Only the LDP has a relatively independent position in the political spectrum of the Parliament – with attention to the interests of business, the market economy and a broader concept of “patriotism”. However, the party still has only one representative in the Parliament.

Other parts of the political spectrum did not receive organized representation following the election results. They are occasionally expressed by individual deputies. An example is Valery Varanetsky (before the election, the Chairman, now the Deputy Chairman of the Commission on International Affairs), a number of statements of whom in 2019 were approaching a liberal and national position. However, there was no stable and consistent representation of political views outside the CPB – RPLJ – BPP and LDP circle in 2019.

Belaja Rus. The 2019 elections did not change the status of Belaja Rus, which has not transformed into a political party and has not yet acquired additional functions and political influence. Its main functions remain activity in the mass media. The most significant result of the 2019 campaign for the organization was the election of Henadz Davydzka to the Parliament. Previously, the leadership of Belaja Rus was not represented in the Deputy corps. As before, two-thirds of the deputies formally belong to the organization, but there is no evidence of the influence of such a broad representation on the nature of the political activity of the Parliament.

Changes in the leadership

The work of the first session of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic in December 2019 ended with significant changes in the leadership of the Parliament. Speaker of the Lower House Uladzimir Andrejchanka retained his position, held since 2008. His Deputy became Valery Mickievich, who had been the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration for ten years. Only two of the fourteen chairpersons – Ihar Marzaliuk (Commission on Education, Culture and Science) and Liudmila Makaryna-Kibak (Commission on Health, Physical Culture, Family and Youth Policy) – retained their positions at the level of permanent commissions. In five more cases, the deputies became chairpersons of the previous convocation. The remaining positions were taken by newly elected deputies. Among others the chairpersons became the head of Belaya Rus’ Hennadz Davydzka (Commission on Human Rights, National Relations and Media), former Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Savinykh (Commission on International Affairs) and Supreme Court judge Sviatlana Lyubetskaja (Commission on Legislation).

The leadership of the Council of the Republic changed completely. Natalia Kachanava, who had previously served as the head of the Presidential Administration for three years, became the Chairperson. Anatoly Isachanka, the Chairman of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee (2017–2019), was elected as her Deputy. The heads of all permanent committees were also changed. Mikhail Rusy, Deputy Prime Minister (2012–2019) and assistant to the President for Mahilioŭ region (2019) became a Chairperson of one of the permanent commissions.

Socio-demographic composition of the Deputy corps

The 2019 elections allow making observations on changes in the socio-demographic composition of the Deputy corps. In the field of representation of professional groups, the most noticeable trend was the doubling of the representation of state public organizations, political parties and the media (from 7 to 14 newly elected deputies) compared to 2016. At the same time, the representation of the manufacturing sector (industry, transport, construction) significantly decreased – approximately 8 instead of 23 newly elected deputies in 2016.

Also an important trend was the overall reduction in the number of people from the executive vertical of power. Their number was maximal in the House of Representatives of the fourth convocation (2008–2012), but then decreased continuously, and after the elections of 2019, made up 13 deputies. The fluctuation in the representation of other professional groups is not so significant.

As a result of the elections, there were changes in the age and gender composition of the House of Representatives, although the political significance of such changes cannot always be reliably interpreted. 44 women (40%) were elected to the Lower House of the Parliament, which is an absolute record for the entire period of independence of Belarus. In the Belarusian model, an increase in the share of women in a representative body usually means a decrease in its influence, but in this case there is no reason to draw such a conclusion. The public role of the Parliament, in particular, has not decreased.

The age structure of the Parliament also became more diverse. For the first time since 2008, two deputies under the age of 31 were elected to the Parliament, while the number of people over the age of 60 also increased from four to nine. But the most significant trend was an increase in the number of deputies aged 50–60 years due to a significant decrease in the age of 40–50 years. In this way, the Parliament again becomes more of a career-level body, rather than a stepping stone to other positions.

Legislative activity

After a surge in 2017–2018 of Deputy activity to initiate laws, in 2019 such activity declined, which can be considered a natural continuation of the contradictory feedback that deputies received. Of the five laws proposed by deputies and passed by the House of Representatives in 2018, two were not signed by the President and returned to the Parliament with objections. After such an atypical (even emergency) situation, the projects were withdrawn and no longer accepted for consideration.

In 2019, deputies initiated only one draft law “On amendments and additions to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus” (responsible Deputy Tacciana Marachkava), but it was soon withdrawn by the initiator.

In accordance with the practice established in recent years, the Council of Ministers initiated the absolute majority of laws in 2019. The President's activity is limited to single acts – approval of budget expenditures, financial reports, and amnesty. The House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic did not reject or send for revision any of the bills initiated by the government and the President. The Parliament also took note of all the presidential decrees.

International activities

After the 2016 elections, there was a noticeable increase in the international activity of the Parliament, especially on the normalization of relations with the European Union and the United States. The peak of activity can be considered the holding of several important international forums in Minsk in 2017, including a meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. After that, activity decreased, also due to the achievement of certain cooperation limits and the exhaustion of formats, which affected the international activity of the Parliament in 2019.

From the bilateral cooperation, the most high-profile visits were made to Belarus by the Polish parliamentary delegation led by Deputy speaker of the Sejm Ryszard Terlecki (August 21–23), the Slovak delegation led by the Chairman of the National Council of Slovakia Andrej Danko (June 2–5), Turkey led by the Chairman of the International Affairs Commission of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Volkan Bozkir (September 10–13) and China led by the Vice-Chairperson of the Committee of the National People's Congress Shen Yueyue (April 1–3). At the level of parliamentary delegations, the Belarusian Parliament also communicated with parliamentarians from four European and two Asian countries – Germany, Sweden, Latvia, the Netherlands, Tajikistan and Iran.

In 2019, the practice of meetings with heads of foreign states during their official visits to Belarus was developed. In this format, Uladzimir Andrejchanka met with the presidents of Georgia, Egypt and Zimbabwe.

As for the cooperation within the framework of inter-parliamentary organizations, as before, it remains tied to Russia and the post-Soviet space. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State in 2019 accounted for almost half (47%) of 68 inter-parliamentary contacts, together with the inter-parliamentary Assembly of the CIS member States and the Parliamentary Assembly of the CSTO, these formats accounted for more than 70% of meetings.

Conclusion

The election of the seventh convocation of the National Assembly was another attempt to construct a new political role for the Parliament. While maintaining the general trend towards the increasing of party representation and political diversity, the main result was the creation of a new political spectrum based on political and public organizations created on the basis of executive bodies, budget structures and state enterprises. The representation of such organizations in the Parliament increased, while the share of people from the vertical of power and manufacturing sector decreased.

Unlike the 2016 elections, representatives of alternative political forces and public organizations were not included in the Parliament.

The chosen model allows greater control over the Parliament and public space, but does not solve the problem of representation of a wide range of other political forces and positions.