Changes in the Electoral Law, International Ratings and Ukraine - Belarus State TV Digest

This week Belarusian TV reported that Ukraine will lose rather than win if it signs the Association Agreement with Brussels. It also covered the falsification of reports in the Belarusian state-run agricultural sector and a contest for the best crop gatherer in Belarus.

State TV argued that the Transparency International report on corruption is unreliable and underestimates CIS countries. Alexander Lukashenka's talk about reforming the Electoral Code, as well as science and development of the economy got significant coverage.

International Affairs

Experts: Ukraine will lose its independenceBelarusian TV quoted unnamed experts in Ukraine who published a document criticising the Association Agreement that Kiev is planning to sign at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. The broadcast quoted the experts arguing that “without a change in the Ukrainian Constitution, the state cannot sign the agreement”. The potential amendments will limit the independence of Ukraine, the reporters added.

Another controversial argument was made related to the establishment of international bodies, and the recognition of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Belarusian television concluded that recently Ukraine also made a step towards the Customs Union after it became an observer for this organisation which includes Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.

Russia-US relations. State TV reported that relations between these countries are in a deadlock. It quotes Barack Obama, who talked about taking a pause in the two states' mutual relations, but also quoted Sergey Lavrov, who was being persuasive said that “there is no Cold War between both countries”. The administration in Washington also needs to cope with the dissatisfaction of American citizens in the aftermath of media revelations about the collection of private data from Americans and foreigners from emails and telephone conversations.

Belarus-Poland relationsAccording to state television, Poland initiated a meeting to discuss mutual relations between the countries at the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No further information was provided.

Domestic Affairs

Changes in the electoral process to make it more transparent and democratic. Lukashenka chaired a meeting on changes to electoral procedures “to optimise the electoral process”. According to Belarusian TV, the work on this began back in January. The main goal of the amendments is the “maintenance of both national interests and international standards”. A majority of these changes are related to parliamentary elections and include one round of elections to the parliament, more electoral committees, and prohibition of election boycotts.

Belarusian TV also divulged that some issues had caused disagreement among the participants of the meeting. Not everyone shared the same opinion about the changes to campaign funding. Uladzimir Andrejchenka, head of  the lower chamber of the Belarusian Parliament, argued that without money it will be difficult for candidates to collect signatures.

The participants of the meeting decided that state funding would be increased threefold, although some advocated making it five times higher. Under the changes, all candidates will also have to reveal whether they have a criminal record. The representatives of the higher chamber of the Parliament stated that “in general the project is a good one. It makes the electoral process more democratic and transparent”.  

Reorganisation of Belarusian science sector. Lukashenka organised a meeting at which he gave officials three months to implement serious changes in the Belarusian science sector. He demanded that they optimise their management of science and also reform the Academy of Sciences. He also raised the issue of funding: “from 1 January we will not pay high salaries to anyone, even to scientists (...) because we assume that scientists are smart people and should earn money both for themselves and for the state. So why should we waste money from a budget if we will not get anything in return?”.

Who is hiding the real numbers and why? Recently the Belarusian Ministry of Interior revealed a number of incidents of falsifying reported numbers in the agricultural sector. State TV stressed that most of the incidents appeared in reported figures on the volume of milk held in storage, but there were also some issues with the ongoing harvest campaign. It quotes the minister, Ihar Shunievich, saying that “this is [done] to hide the incompetence of a farm's leadership”.

“Others come to learn from us”. State TV proudly reported that the first Belarusian nuclear power plant in Astraviec is being built in accordance with modern international standards. It added that the most influential organisations specialising in the area, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and Russia's Rosatom, have confirmed this.

State TV also reported that the Belarusian side, for the second time, will discuss related environmental issues with representatives of Lithuania, because “Belarus has always been in favour of an open dialogue with its neighbours”. Minsk even plans to issue free visas and bus transfers to Lithuanian citizens who come to Astraviec for consultations. An activist from Ecologic Initiative confirmed that the management of construction is paying attention to the high environmental norms.

The media has reported that Minsk spent $250m on preparation of the facilities' construction alone. It proudly boasted that experts from Poland, Russia and Bulgaria have come to Belarus to gain experience.

Society

International ratings are untrustworthy. State television reported that a wave of corruption scandals have recently swept over European countries, such as Spain, Czech Republic and France. They made light of the fact that paradoxically the Czech Republic ranked rather high on Transparency International's report (54 out of 176), despite having serious problems with corruption “from low-level clerks up to the prime-minister's assistant”.

According to Belarusian television, CIS countries are unfairly ranked very lowly. State TV explained the logic behind this as follows: “an investor looks at the rating, chooses higher positions and brings his money exactly where he should. In that way they take potential investment opportunities away from their rivals”. To prove the unreliability of international ratings, state TV gave the examples of Italy and Australia where courts have convicted credit ratings companies such as Standard & Poor's.

Economy

Belarusian company conquers Ukraine. Belorusneft will start working in oil fields in Ukraine. State television commented that “entry of the Belarusian company to the Ukrainian market will be just another step in development of its export potential”. It also added that the Belarusian oil companies are already successfully working in Western Siberia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Modernisation of Belarusian economy. Lukashenka discussed with Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Prakapovich the campaign for the modernisation of the economy. The authorities have already introduced their strategy in more than 3,000 state companies. The TV noted that the wages of employees had already increased by 11.5% in the first half of a year, and basic capital has been increased thanks to more investments. However, the modernisation campaign faces some problems. As Prakapovich stated, the lack of an effective management system is hindering it.

India interested in privatisation of Belarusian companies. Manoj Kumar Bkharti, Indian ambassador to Belarus, confirmed that his country is keen to buy shares in Belaruskali. State TV also reminded viewers that the Belarusian authorities announced that wanted to privatise the company back in 2011.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country. 

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