Who is in the New Belarusian Parliament?
The 2012 parliamentary election in Belarus is over. The Central Elections Committee announced those who will be in the new parliament.
A typical MP is a non-partisan male aged between 50 and 60. He made his career in state sector - either working for government institutions or in education, culture, science or health care industries. A labour collective usually nominates such a candidate. To become member of parliament one also needs to have a good record of political loyalty towards the incumbent regime.
Needless to say, all MPs are pro-regime. Not a single representative of the opposition secured a seat in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Belarusian parliament. The list of all 109 MPs was announced even before some District Election Commissions managed to finalise the results.
Does it even Matter?
Looking at the number of draft laws that the MPs of the previous convocation of the House of Representatives prepared, it is difficult to be under any illusion about the significance of parliament in Belarus.
During the four years of their service (2008-2012) the outgoing parliamentarians initiated only 3(!) drafts of their own. All the others came from the Council of Ministers or the Presidential Administration. And the MPs simply passed those drafts without much scrutiny.
Therefore, there is, perhaps, little practical point in analysing the composition of the parliament that only exists for ceremonial purposes and is appointed rather than elected. However, such analysis shows what categories of Belarusians can benefit the most from the existing regime and how social lifts work in the country.
Further, world history has shown many times that a stable authoritarian system can easily turn into political chaos. If something of this kind happens in Belarus, the role of parliament could suddenly become crucial. A lot will then depend on its individual members.
Labour Collectives Rule
According to the Belarusian Electoral Code, candidates for deputies of the lower chamber can be nominated in three ways:
- by political parties;
- by labour collectives with at least 300 employees;
- by initiative groups of citizens who have collected at least 1000 signatures in support of their candidate.
The major novelty of the 2012 election was the large number of candidates nominated by political parties. At the beginning of this campaign political parties nominated 264 candidates. In 2008 election only 58 were party candidates.
This is the result of recent amendments to the Electoral Code: a political party can nominate its candidate in each constituency regardless of whether it maintains a regional office there. The international observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe welcomed this novelty with great enthusiasm.
However, after the announcement of the official election results the enthusiasm vanished. Only 5 political party members made it to parliament. Three of them represent the Communist Party of Belarus, one – the Republican Party of Labour and Justice and one more -- the Belarusian Agrarian Party.
Thus, despite better nomination opportunities for political parties, the number of partisan MPs in the new convocation is smaller than in the previous one: 5 vs. 7.
But like before, the biggest portion of the parliamentarians represent labour collectives. All in all, 70 candidates nominated by these got into the House of Representatives. They will now make up 82.5 per cent of the chamber. It is also interesting that labour collectives nominees had the highest passage percentage among all other categories of nominees.
This labour collective phenomenon can be explained in two ways. First, it is a lingering Soviet tradition to promote candidates who are loyal to the authorities and have no affiliation with any political structures. Second, it is an effective tool to control MPs. Once a parliamentarian becomes disloyal the government can quickly make the labour collective withdraw its nomination and initiate a no-confidence vote.
Male State Officials in their 50s Dominate
From the point of view of age and gender, the new convocation will be dominated by male MPs in their 50s. The share of men in the chamber is roughly 75 per cent and the majority of them are between 50 and 60 years old.
The average age of all the winning candidates is about 53 years. Not a single candidate under 30 years made it to the House of Representatives. The youngest MP is now 31. And the oldest is 65 years old.
It is also interesting to have a look at the professional backgrounds of the successful candidates. There are two major groups of them.
The first one has former state officials who constitute almost 40 per cent. Uladzimir Dzedushkin from a constituency in Orsha is a typical example. Until recently he worked as chairman of Orsha Region Executive Committee. In his 8 years as regional governor he was a loyal and diligent member of the so-called president's "power vertical" and earned a number of state awards.
As governor of the region he was responsible for the realisation of the social and economic plans of the government and for keeping the local opposition under firm control. Election/appointment to parliament comes as the biggest reward for all his previous work.
The second largest group is made up by the representatives of the spheres of education, culture, science and health. They took almost a quarter of the seats. A representative example here is Dzmitry Shautsou, head of a hospital in Minsk.
He made a great career having advanced to the position of the chief doctor of his hospital and becoming the chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Doctors. He later joined the pro-government public association Belaya Rus, which made him ideologically suitable for a parliamentary seat.
Belarus got yet another sterile parliament. The interests of numerous groups of citizens are entirely excluded from it. Representatives of political opposition, small and medium size business, civil society organisations and national minorities are not there.
It is an ideal legislature for the authoritarian Belarusian government that does not tolerate any dissent in society. However, it is an entirely useless institution for the Belarusian people.
Today even the government understands the need to reform and modernise the country. Modernisation requires fresh ideas and innovative policies. Unfortunately, the new 109 rubber-stamp MPs will hardly be of any help in this.
Yauheni is Policy Director at the Discussion and Analytical Society Liberal Club in Minsk