Home » Belarus at the polls: the decline of pluralism and the rise of the new Politburo

Belarus at the polls: the decline of pluralism and the rise of the new Politburo

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Belarus at the polls: the decline of pluralism and the rise of the new Politburo

The so-called “unified voting day” in Belarus, where citizens will return to the polls for the first time after the controversial and turbulent 2020 elections. On this occasion, they will elected the deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly and gods Councils of local deputies. Subsequently, on April 4, 2024, elections for members of the Council of the Republic will be held.

The importance of elections

The election is crucial as it marks a big step in the direction of one Increasingly totalitarian Belarus. These elections will mark a turning point for the Assembly Pan-Belarusian popular (ABPA), which from a purely consultative body became the “highest summit of democratic representation” in the country, with the constitutional amendment of February 2022.

This transformation aims to prepare the ground for a possible replacement of the current president Alexander Lukashenko, in power for three decades nowin view of the 2025 presidential elections. The change in the powers of the ABPA, in fact, provides for a significant change in the structure of governmentor, giving this body extensive control over numerous policy decisions. Furthermore, this change will lead to the formation of a small group of trusted allies of Lukashenko, accentuating authoritarianism in the country and further strengthening the centralization of the government system.

The Belarusian electoral process, “a ritual without meaning or justice”

Belarus is a presidential republic, with a government structure that provides for a separation of powers. The legislative power is entrusted to a Bicameral parliament known as the “National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus”, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic. Executive power is concentrated in the hands of the Council of Ministers, while judicial power is exercised by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court.

Despite the formal division between the different bodies, the president has traditionally exercised a check substantial across all spheres of government, limiting the effectiveness of both the judiciary and the legislature. The authoritarian nature of the country is also reflected in its electoral system which, although the semblance of democracy and the guarantee of universal, equal, direct or indirect suffrage according to the Constitution, has often been the subject of criticism for irregularities and alleged electoral fraud.

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The latest presidential election in 2020 was not only criticized but formally contested with accusations of widespread fabrications. Independent analyzes have even shown that the elections were actually won by the current president in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, rather than by Lukashenko. However, precisely because of the authoritarian nature, since 1994 Belarus has consistently and invariably re-elected Lukashenko as president, leaving no room for significant changes in the political landscape, a trend that is expected to continue in this year’s elections.

A squeeze on the Belarusian regime: a decline in political pluralism

The continuous and growing government repression, which began following the protests that took place in 2020, and the resulting mass emigration from the country have political pluralism drastically reduced in Belarus.

The remaining citizens and opponents found themselves facing severe repression. As reported by Amnesty International in the report on human rights in the world (2023), in Belarus freedom of expression is severely restricted, with more than 1500 political prisoners and prison sentences exceeding 10 years of imprisonment. The goal of repression is suppress any potential opposition forceAnd. In accordance with the requirements established by the updated Constitution, in fact, citizens against whom a conviction has been issued, who have a criminal record, or who reside abroad cannot stand for election.

These limitations have a great bearing on who can and cannot participate in elections and, as a result, have significantly affected the presence of opposition political parties. Beyond control the media e repress any form of dissentthe Belarusian authorities have influenced the electoral process targeting as many as 12 parties, including the Civil Unity Party, the long-standing opposition group.

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Currently, they are registered only four political parties: the current ruling party, Belaya Rus, relatively central; two nominally left-wing parties, the Communist Party of Belarus and the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus; and finally, a right-wing party, the Republican Labor and Justice Party.

Institutional reforms and political strategies: the role of ABPA and the so-called “armed pacifism”

The February elections do not mark a departure from the climate created in the country since 2020, but rather highlight a significant change in the structure of government.

The new All-Belarusian People’s Assemblyendowed with broad powers, will have authority over all branches of governmentincluding the executive one and, in addition to other tasks, will be able to introduce martial law, initiate impeachment proceedings, cancel presidential elections, and also elect and remove judges of the Supreme and Constitutional courts.

Of the 1200 representatives who will constitute this new body, only 15 will have the actual power to direct its policy, thus creating a sort of Lukashenko’s personal Politburo. Under the updated constitution, the president himself will serve as ABPA president, while other members will form the circle of his most trusted associates, from which his eventual successor could emerge.

The session will also serve for prepare the ground for the 2025 presidential elections. Among the main themes of Lukashenko’s election campaign are the populist narrative and alignment with Russia on issues related to “family values” and LGBT rights. To these, we also add the concept of “armed pacifism”, which aims to create a Peaceful but militarily powerful Belarus.

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A faint glimmer of democratic hope in the shadow of autocracy

February elections in Belarus will see a unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of Lukashenko. Between the new role of the All-Belarus People’s Assembly and the increase in political repression, there is little prospect of change in the immediate future.

At the same time, the democratic forces abroadforced into exile to escape persecution, are persevering in their commitment to counter the Lukashenko regime. Although they represent a limited option, they offer hope in a country that has lost much of its democratic nature.

Article by Sara Pastorello

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