Pro-Government Parties in Belarus: Are They Real?
In Western democracies, parties exist to get politicians elected and help them implement policies. In Belarus, Lukashenka’s opponents cannot succeed at either of these activities. Even the political parties that do support the regime are only marginally more successful.
There are fifteen parties registered in Belarus; seven of them side with the government. These pro-regime parties sit on electoral commissions and local councils and claim to have the largest combined membership base. At the same time, very few Belarusians can remember their names — and not a single pro-government party has begun to campaign for the 2015 presidential election.
Are these pro-government parties even real? Several pro-regime parties exist only on paper; their “members” help fill out electoral commissions ahead of any election to control the outcome. Some pro-government parties harbour greater ambitions, but lack a coherent ideology and strong leadership. One is so far from the an understanding of normal politics, that it even lacks a web site.
No Ruling Party in Belarus
Belarus has no counterparts to the hegemonic political parties that emerged in other post-Soviet states. For example, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia holds 52.89% of seats in the State Duma and in 2012 reported 2,113,767 members. The New Azerbaijan Party, formed by former President Aliev in 1992, and now led by his son, has consistently won the largest share of seats in the parliament and in 2009 celebrated its 500,000th member.
The best performing party, the Communists, placed three deputies in the 110-seat Lower House of the Parliament Read more
In Belarus, even pro-Lukashenka parties cannot boast electoral success. The best performing party, the Communists, placed three deputies in the 110-seat Lower House of the Parliament in the 2012 elections. Seventeen party members were appointed to the 64-seat Upper House. The Liberal Democratic Party claims to have the largest membership base (45,866 members), yet won no seats in the legislative bodies in 2014.
The absence of a ruling party is good news for Belarusians, as it can prolong the survival of an authoritarian regime. The president has traditionally maintained that parties should not be created artificially by the government and that Belarus does not need a ruling party. In January 2014, however, he hinted at a meeting with district executives that a hegemonic party could help execute policies at the local level.
Pro-government Party Facades
Some parties exist purely to see that the regime’s objectives are carried out. For these parties, winning votes is not on the agenda.
The Belarusian electoral code requires that party and movement representatives make up a third of the membership of electoral commissions. As Vitaly Ruganin of Euroradio suggests in an article about the 2014 election, some pro-regime parties function exclusively to help the regime comply with the electoral laws and control election outcomes.
For example, in the 2014 local election, the Agrarian party offered no candidates, but sent 531 of its members to sit on electoral commissions. Similarly, candidates from the Republican Party did not run in the election, but 327 of them sat on electoral commissions. The Belarusian Socialist Sports Party offered up three deputies, though 582 of its members sat on electoral commissions. By contrast, the opposition party Belarusian National Front had 27 candidates running and proposed 64 committee members, of which only six were accepted.
Parties created solely to stuff electoral commissions with pro-regime support lack incentives to invest in organisational infrastructure or even to create an online presence. The Agrarian party, for example, does not even have a web site, while the Republican Party’s web site has not been updated since 2005.
The party that seems to have grown fastest in recent years is the Republican Party of Labour and Justice. Whereas it lacked voblast (province) branches in 2006, it now has representatives not only in all six voblasts, but also in nearly all rayons (districts) of the country. The party’s regional leadership counts several directors of state enterprises and heads of regional administration among its ranks, which may allow it to easily collect signatures and recruit new “members.” In the 2012 parliamentary elections, seven out of its eleven candidates represented state and private business interests.
Chairing a Pro-Government Party
At the helm of many pro-governmental parties stand former apparatchiks and red directors. Former red director, Vasily Zadnepranyi, who in 2009 sat on the Consultation Committee of the Presidential Administration, chairs the Republican Party of Labour and Justice.
The party’s Deputy Chair Aleksandr Stepanov began his career by working for the Administration of Frunzensky District of Minsk. He received several thank you letters from Lukashenka for his active participation in the 2006 and 2010 elections. The party’s leadership also includes Babosov Evgeny, the Head of the National Academy of Sciences.
Siarhei Haidukievich, the chair of the Liberal-Democratic Party since its founding in 1995, has served in a number of leadership roles in the Soviet military establishment. In 2001, Haidukievich ran for president, winning 2.5% of the vote. Haidukievich congratulated Lukashenka with his victory. Then, in the 2010 election, Haidukievich collected the 100 thousand signatures necessary for registration to run again but then withdrew from running, calling the elections “a farce in which respectable politicians should not take part.”
There are times when pro-government parties not only criticise the lack of political competition in Belarus, but also contradict Lukashenka’s policies. For example, unlike the President, the Republican Party of Labour and Justice has recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as the annexation of Crimea.
Twenty Years without Competition
while the opposition parties such as the Belarusian National Front have retained their raison d'être, the pro-regime parties are losing their relevance Read more
Belarus’s political landscape has not always been so dire. In the 1995 Supreme Soviet, 105 deputies represented sixteen political parties, and 93 were independents. The Agrarian party who has no online presence today, received 34 seats in 1995. The Communist party that secured seats for three of its candidates in 2012, got 44 seats in 1995.
Twenty years of authoritarian rule seems to have undermined not only the opposition parties, which have suffered from repression, but also the pro-regime parties, which have functioned in a relatively friendlier environment. And while the opposition parties such as the Belarusian National Front have retained their raison d'être, the pro-regime parties are losing their relevance.
Belaya Rus, a pro-government association with 147,000 alleged members, chaired by the Minister of Education, may soon take their place. At the moment, its legal status as a republican association rather than a political party may allow for greater flexibility in recruitment and activity planning, though this may soon change.
In contrast to the pro-regime parties, Belaya Rus has already started preparing for the upcoming presidential election. The association created a republic-wide headquarters to coordinate campaign efforts by its local-level units and will provide observers and help staff electoral commissions.
The rise of Belaya Rus, as well as the parallel growth of pro-opposition movements such as Tell the Truth, suggests that broad non-ideological movements better fit Belarus's current political realities than political parties. Parties, on the other hand, may become increasingly obsolete as they do not participate in government and lack citizens' trust.
IMF, FDI and Security Discussed in Minsk – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Belarus hosts events focused on Belarus's place in the region, the role of FDI in modernisation of the Belarusian economy, and corporate social responsibility.
Street artists from different countries will paint Minsk walls based on urban folklore during the Urban Myths festival, which runs from June to November 2015. Read about the upcoming conferences, competitions, and exhibitions in Belarus Civil Society Digest.
Idea online journal organises the first public event to host a speaker from the International Monetary Fund in Belarus. The guest is the IMF senior representative in Central and Easter Europe Mr. James Roaf. The expert will present his office’s special report ‘25 Years of Transition: Post-Communist Europe and the IMF’. The meeting starts at 7 pm, on April 23, at the Minsk Imaguru Business Club.
Conference 2014: Belarus and the Region was held by Belarus Security Blog Project, on March 28. The event attracted both local experts and their counterparts from the Belarusian diaspora. The event was dedicated to the most important events in the country and in the region over the past year. According to the organisers, the conference was held on a minor note: Belarus is still interested in the world more than the world is interested in it.
Foreign Direct Investments: Driver for Modernisation of the Belarusian Economy round table is organised by the Association of European Business in cooperation with the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS). Belarusian experts will present the recommendations that have been drafted as a part of REFORUM project for the government on how to improve the business climate in Belarus in order to attract foreign direct investment into the country. The event will take place on April 24, in Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Discussion ‘Corporate social responsibility (CSR) for small and medium businesses’ will be held on April 29, in Minsk. Experts from Ukraine and Belarus will talk about the opportunities that CSR has for business companies, including in times of economic crisis. Business professionals, entrepreneurs and representatives of private companies are invited to participate in the discussion. The event is organised by ODB (Brussels) in partnership with the Association of European Business (Minsk).
Leadership in Local Communities course sums up results. On March 28, a graduation meeting of the Fellowship Program Leadership in Local Communities took place near Minsk. The event summed up the key results of the long-term education course for Belarusian community leaders, implemented by the Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) in partnership with Pact. Namely, under the program the fellows managed to involve in activities about 1,000 local residents and mobilised local resources for implementing more than 20 local initiatives. The OEEC website has started to post real cases of the fellows’ achievements.
29 Belarusian CSOs sign the collective proposal for changes in the rules of foreign aid. The CSOs’ proposals have become a response to changes in legislation on obtaining and using foreign aid. The Center for Legal Transformation Lawtrend and the NGO Assembly took the initiative to develop a consolidated position on behalf of the third sector. Inter alia, CSOs offer to introduce the notification principle to receive foreign aid.
Results of the Week against Racism in Belarus. On March 14-22, Belarusian human rights defenders held a series of actions and activities within the European Week Against Racism. Young activists have prepared videos on the topic of racism featuring Belarusian intellectuals, organised a public lecture and film screening as well as posted their photos on Facebook.
Free screenings of films about the problems of people with autism. Film screenings are held on April 3-8 in Minsk and supported by the U.S. Embassy in Belarus, Kufar.by company and the initiative Good Jam for Good People. The event aims focus public attention on the problems of social inclusion of people with autism.
Exhibitions and Competitions
VI Belarus Press Photo competition awarded its winners on April 16, at the Minsk Gallery TUT.BY. Winners in 8 categories and the Grand Prix were selected from among 137 authors, who submitted for the competition more than 2,000 works – series and single photos. Belarus Press Photo is an open independent press photography contest, organised in 2009 by the Belarusian photojournalists with the support of photo portal ZNYATA.
Winners of the annual Svetlana Naumova award were identified at the ceremony conducted by the civil campaign Govori Pravdu, on March 27. Charity store Kali Laska won in the nomination The Project of the Year; Hope of the Year went to activist Oleg Korban, Alternatyva NGO leader; Analyst of the Year – to Yury Drakakhrust; the Journalist of the Year – to Dmitry Galko, the author of a series of reports from Donbas.
Urban Myths Festival. Street artists from different countries will paint Minsk walls based on urban folklore during the Urban Myths festival, which runs from June to November 2015. It will bring together artists from Belarus, Brazil, Spain, Ukraine, Poland, Russia and Sweden. The project is initiated by street art community Signal. Part of the funds for the festival is planned to collect through Belarusian crowdfunding platform Talakosht.
Exhibition 'Person Holding a Flower' opened in the new premises of TSEKH on April 14. The exhibition presents photos of blind Natalia Kavalevich and photographer Anastasia Hralovich and plunges into the world of a blind person. During the exhibition, until May 15, the organisers promise to conduct a few tours with a blindfold and a cane, as well as master classes for children.
Lukashenka doesn’t prepare a successor and advises the opposition to change ideology. In his interview with Bloomberg, Lukashenka said that the Belarusian opposition demonstrates that "they are not ready to take power in Belarus and keep the country." Meanwhile, two opposition political forces – Volha Karatch, the Nash Dom civil campaign leader, and Movement For Freedom – made official statements that they will not take part in the presidential election in 2015. Journal Ideaby produces an infographics that explains all the links within the Belarusian opposition – who is friends with whom and against whom.
Belarus takes the 78th place of 102 countries in the Open Government Index 2015, released by the World Justice Project (WJP). The best result Belarus has in the category "complaint mechanisms" (52nd place), the worst – "civic participation" (93rd place). The WJP Open Government Index 2015 is the first effort to measure government openness based on the general public’s experiences and perceptions worldwide.
Belarus is ranked 52th in the Passport Index. Based on collected data, the site enlists a Visa Free Score per passport. Points are accumulated based on each visa-free country that holders can visit, meaning they can either visit without a visa or obtain one upon arrival. Belarusian passport holder can visit 66 countries without visa or get visa on border. Visa Restrictions Index put Belarus on the 67th place and counted that Belarusians may visit 63 countries without visas.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.