Election coverage, military procurement, relations with diaspora – Ostrogorski Centre digest

"Transparent" ballot box Belarus-style. Photo: belsat.eu

Over the last month the Ostrogorski Centre primarily covered and analysed the 2016 parliamentary elections in Belarus. The centre organised live online coverage, published analytical and monitoring materials, took part in observation and commented on the electoral process for Belarusian and foreign media.

Besides the elections, analysts of the Ostrogorski Centre discussed military procurement policies, the appeal of Belarusian universities to foreign students, and trends in the government's interaction with the Belarusian diaspora.

Analytics

Siarhei Bohdan analyses recent military equipment procurement policies and tries to understand whether Minsk is really overhauling its army in response to new challenges or if it's just a trick to conceal the decline of the Belarusian military due to financial difficulties.

The expert concludes that it would be wrong to describe the current transformation of the Belarusian armed forces as a decline. Minsk is reshaping its army in an organised manner in accordance with its financial resources, e.g., downshifting its air force.

Ryhor Astapenia discusses the prospects for attracting foreign students to Belarusian universities. The Belarusian authorities are relying on the relatively low price of living and for-profit learning from the educational sector, but many issues create serious obstacles, especially for western students.

Belarus should make its education internationally recognised, develop programmes in English and attract lecturers with international teaching experience. It needs to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and train education agencies. Belarusian universities lack influential alumni organisations that can help attract new students, and this should also be addressed.

Igar Gubarevich analyses a recent and noteworthy trend in the government's interaction with Belarusians living abroad. Earlier, outreach remained limited to cultural events or using expatriates as the regime's advocates.

Since recently, the Belarusian authorities have become aware of the role the diaspora can play in promoting the country’s political and economic interests abroad. However, the government’s politically motivated selectivity in choosing its partners and a lack of money to support their ties with Belarus jeopardise this cooperation.

2016 parliamentary elections

On 11 September Belarus Digest provided live online coverage of the parliamentary elections in Belarus: the most important developments as well as reactions to the process and results. The website featured a collection of stories from international and Belarusian media, as well as videos, pictures, and comments from experts.

Development director of the Ostrogorski Centre Ryhor Astapenia took part in election observation at one of the polling stations in Minsk. Ryhor reported a 1,5 times inflated turnout and non-transparent vote counting. The electoral commission members behaved rudely and refused to provide information to Belarusian observers, but became extremely polite and prompt when the OSCE mission came.

Ryhor attempted to organise live video coverage of the vote counting process, which the commission tolerated for a couple of minutes before stripping Ryhor of his accreditation as an observer and driving out of the station.

Belarus Digest published an editorial on the messages the authorities are trying to convey to the West by letting two representatives of the opposition and civil society in the newly-appointed Parliament. These messages are:

1. The authorities will not fundamentally change the election process - it will remain entirely controlled.
2. They are making slow progress towards liberalisation and greater transparency of elections and support for the opposition is low.
3. It is now time to recognise the Parliament of Belarus and accept the leadership of Belarus at a higher level.

Belarus Digest in cooperation with the National Democratic Institute published a series of analytical materials on different stages of the electoral campaign: the parliamentary campaigning period, the early vote period, as well as conduct and outcomes.

Ostrogorski Centre analysts commented on the election process and its results for Belarusian and foreign media.

Foreign Policy magazine quoted Yarik Kryvoi on the ongoing transformation of the Belarusian political and economic model. He thinks that Western officials should be more assertive in developing relationships with a new generation of Belarusian administrators in order to facilitate long-term change.

Ryhor Astapenia discussed the implications of the emergence of an opposition in the Belarusian parliament. According to Ryhor, the new situation will let the opposition change its image of destructive revolutionaries to respectable members of parliament.

Ryhor Astapenia commented on the Western position on the parliamentary elections in Belarus for thinktanks.by. Ryhor believes that the West is ready to buy election results. Visits of European officials, MEPs and Polish deputies on the eve of the elections show that the West is ready to work with the new Belarusian parliament.

Bloomberg quoted Igar Gubarevich on the opposition representatives in the newly elected Belarusian parliament as a part of Lukashenka's game with the West.

Aljazeera quoted Siarhei Bohdan in an article dedicated to the 2016 parliamentary elections in Belarus.

Siarhei Bohdan comments for Radio Racyja on new purchases of the Belarusian armed forces and recent actions in the field of defence. Belarus does not think a large military conflict is possible, but fears a local conflict like in Donbass. Recently it has been taking measures against such a scenario: purchasing weapons, preparing troops, revising army structure, and making orders for R&D.

Belaruspolicy

​The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update the database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:

Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by completing this form.

The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.

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