Renaissance of Political Parties, Eurasian Currency, Palanez Rocket Launchers – State Press Digest
Political parties see a renaissance during the ongoing parliamentary campaign, as 64% of all candidates are party affiliated. However, society still has only a vague understanding of the role parties play in the Belarusian political system.
The Polish vice speaker emphasises a need for closer cooperation between Belarus and Poland in order to maintain security at the EU border. The Belarusian army receives the newest Belarus-produced multiple rocket launch system, Palanez, capable of simultaneously striking up to eight targets at a distance of 50 to 200 kilometres.
Experts at the Eurasian Development Bank: Belarus would benefit the most from a single currency. This and more in the new edition of State Press Digest.
Parliamentary elections 2016
Political parties see revival in the parliamentary election campaign. The electoral commission registered 521 candidate for September parliamentary elections, reports Belarus Segodnia. They will compete for 110 seats in the House of Representatives. 93 were denied registration and 16 cancelled their applications.
Political parties saw a renaissance, with 64% of all candidates party affiliated, and 176 candidates representing oppositional political parties: United Civil Party, Belarusian Popular Front, Green Party, Belarusian Left Party, and Social Democrats. Candidates can now fund campaigns out of their own pocket and accept donations from individuals and companies.
Political parties will get more seats in the new parliament. Zviazda publishes an interview with political expert Piotra Piatroŭski on political parties' activity in the ongoing parliamentary campaign. This year the number of candidates running exceeds last year's by 136 people. This is due to changes in electoral law, which allowed political parties more opportunities to nominate candidates. Civil associations now also have the right to nominate candidates.
However, society still has only a vague understanding of the role of parties in the Belarusian political system. Parties suffer from personnel shortages and sometimes cannot even complete necessary documents. Piatroŭski accuses oppositional political parties supported by western governments of radicalism and inability to produce sound programmes. He predicts that the number of political parties in the new parliament will increase, yet not significantly.
Poland deepens cooperation with Belarus. Vice-speaker of the Polish Parliament Ryszard Terlecki gave an interview to Belarus Segodnia.
Poland has decided to strengthen relations with Belarus under the auspices of the EU general policy of engagement. This became possible after the visit of Polish foreign minister to Minsk in March 2016.
As a country located at the EU’s eastern border, it is in Poland's interests to cooperate with the EU's neighbours in order to maintain security.
The EU is interested in Belarus’ participation in resolving the Ukraine crisis and the migration crisis, although the latter is less relevant to Eastern Europe.
Currently, Poland and other EU countries are acting as observers of Belarus's parliamentary election; they expect them to be transparent and fair.
Eurasian Union seeks partnership with Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This June, for the first time, a high level delegation from Belarus participated in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as an observer. Lukashenka then emphasised that cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union should become a priority for the SCO and a new continental partnership may emerge. Souyznoe Veche provides the thoughts of a number of Russian experts on the issue.
The Chinese project New Silk Road, which will go through Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, will bring vast investments in the transport and construction sectors. However, while Russia seeks to replace damaged links with the EU and US with China, the latter shows no interest in helping and primarily focuses on the western agenda and its own interests.
Security, economy and society
Belarus arms itself with home-produced multiple rocket launchers Palanez. The Belarusian army has never boasted such modern and powerful weapons, writes Belarus Segodnia.
After 1,5 years of tests, it received the newest Belarus-produced multiple rocket launch system, capable of simultaneously striking up to eight targets at a distance of 50 to 200 kilometres. The six Palanez launchers are now in the hand of the 336th Asipovičy reactive artillery brigade.
According to First Deputy Minister of Defence Alieh Bielakonieŭ, the manufacture of the new weapons is an element of strategic deterrence. To develop its armed forces, a country can either increase their size or change their composition by strengthening them with unique weapons such as Palanez. Belarus chose the second option, which makes creation of local armed groups around Belarus’s borders impossible.
Belarus would benefit most from a single currency in the EEU. Experts at the Eurasian Development Bank announced that according to their estimates, Belarus would receive the greatest benefit in the Eurasian Economic Union if a single currency is introduced. In the long term, membership in the currency union could lead to additional GDP growth of 15% for Armenia, 30% for Belarus, and 10% for Kyrgyzstan, writes Souyz.
The political decision to establish a monetary union has not been taken, as integration is not obligatory for the countries without the necessary macroeconomic and structural conditions. Currently, the economies of the union are insufficiently integrated, with the exception of Belarus and Russia. Another constraint for the currency union is the high dollarisation of their economies as a result of high inflation. Preparing for transition to a single currency could take from 7 to 10 years if the countries abide by their commitments.
Belarusian youth discuss politics through BRSM projects. Andrej Beliakoŭ, head of the pro-government Belarusian Republican Youth Union, spoke on the recent activity of the organisation and modern youth for Znamia Yunosti. The Open Dialogue project started as a site where young people of varying political persuasions could present their ideas to decision makers through discussion and dialogue. Within two years it became immensely popular and is now seen as a form of upbringing for youth.
The organisation has also been developing volunteer movements and has implemented many patriotic projects. Contrary to popular belief, BRSM polls show that the majority of youth demonstrate an interest in politics. Beliakoŭ claims that young Belarusians are pragmatic and would rather work to achieve results than wait for benefits from others.
The State Press Digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. 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.
A Final Blow to Independent Sociology in Belarus?
On 31 July 2016, Belarusian TV broadcast a “special report,” accusing the IISEPS (Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies) of fraud and fabrication of results.
Soon thereafter, the founder of IISEPS, Aleh Manaeŭ, stated that his organisation would cease conducting sociological surveys in Belarus.
On the eve of the 2016 parliamentary elections, the Belarusian authorities decided to tighten control over opinion polls to secure a smooth electoral campaign. IISEPS, known as one of the few independent pollsters in Belarus, was an easy target, as it had already been struggling for existence for years.
The termination of IISEPS' activities impacts the availability of independently-collected quantitative data on Belarusian society. Experts fear that this attack on IISEPS marks an end to independent sociology in Belarus.
Between a rock and a hard place
Established in 1992 by a group of academics and public figures, the IISEPS had been regularly providing public opinion polls and surveys of the socio-political situation in Belarus.
It has remained one of the few independent sources of information for social scientists on Belarus both within the country and abroad. According to IISEPS, by 2015, the number of media references to the Institute had reached 3,200, in contrast to a mere 25 in 1992.
Ironically, independent opinion polls presented an inconvenience both for the authorities and the opposition. Read more
Ironically, independent opinion polls presented an inconvenience both for the authorities and the opposition. The latter was often unhappy with their results, which did not always conform with the wishful thinking of some of the regime's opponents. For instance, during the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, IISEPS polls reflected growth in Lukashenka's approval ratings and unwillingness of Belarusians to support possible scenarios of violent power takeover.
During the 2015 presidential elections, IISEPS confirmed Lukashenka's victory, albeit by a much smaller margin than the Central Election Commission reported. IISEPS estimated that Lukashenka had won with 50.8 per cent of votes, while his closest contender, Tatsiana Karatkevich, received 22.3 per cent of votes. By contrast, official statistics assigned 83.5 per cent of votes to Lukashenka, and only 4.4 per cent to Karatkevich.
However, IISEPS still represents a much larger nuisance to the ruling regime than to the opposition. In 2005, persecution forced it out of the country, as the Supreme Court denied the Institute an official registration, thus making its activities in Belarus illegal. IISEPS relocated to Lithuania and has been operating from Vilnius. It will continue its work until August 2016, marking an end to independent opinion polls in Belarus.
Securing stage-managed elections?
By spring 2016, Belarusian state-run media started targeting IISEPS in an organised fashion, aiming to discredit the activities of its independent social researchers. Major Belarusian official media, including Belarus Segodnia and Belta, lamented that IISEPS research was biased and unreliable.
Other media allegations centred around the legal aspects of IISEPS activities, since it conducted surveys and disseminated their results without official approval. On 31 July 2016, the leading Belarusian TV channel delivered the final strike to IISEPS by broadcasting an entire film discrediting IISEPS activities and methodologies.
Based on information from anonymous informants, journalists claimed that IISEPS did not conduct real surveys and falsified its data. Moreover, the film deliberately disclosed a number of names and the personal information of IISEPS employees, thus placing them at risk of criminal charges for working without registration.
In response, Aleh Manaeŭ issued a statement denying all accusations against IISEPS in the media. He connected the attack on his Institute with the upcoming parliamentary elections and the fact that Belarusian authorities need to ensure they go off smoothly.
In his opinion, the regime needed an uncomplicated picture of elections in order to justify more dialogue and cooperation with the West, especially in light of the deteriorating social, economic, and geopolitical situation.
The end of independent opinion polls in Belarus?
On 9 August 2016, Aleh Manaeŭ declared that IISEPS would cease conducting sociological surveys in Belarus due to the heightened risk involved for its employees. Apparently, the media attacked the entire network of interviewers, forcing some of them to give public statements under threat of criminal charges.
Experts fear that the attack on IISEPS will complicate analysis of the parliamentary elections in Belarus this fall. Aliaksandr Klaskoŭski has noted that in the past IISEPS numbers often reflected electoral fraud. Thus, the elimination of IISEPS will serve to ensure that elections appear honest while depriving Western observers of an alternative sources of information.
According to the political scientist Siarhej Nikaliuk, the upcoming parliamentary elections might not be the only reason for the attack against the IISEPS. It could also have fallen prey to the Belarusian regime's need to secure control over the country in times of deepening economic crisis. Independent opinion polls and data thus turned into a liability, whereas elections just represented a tipping point.
The attack on IISEPS coincided not only with parliamentary elections and an economic crisis in Belarus, but also with decreasing levels of support for Lukashenka. Spring public opinion polls reflect that by March 2016, Lukashenka's popularity had dropped to 27.3 per cent, in contrast to 45.7 per cent in September 2015.
Valer Karbalevich has also suggested that the attack on IISEPS might be part of Lukashenka's usual tactic to gain leverage against the West. In this case, the Belarusian regime would traditionally start a “hostage trade” in exchange for recognition of the elections. Or, alternatively, it sensed that the West chose geopolitics over democracy promotion in Belarus and therefore would not interfere much in internal affairs.
As of now, it is clear that Belarusian authorities have successfully deprived its opponents, independent analysts, and election observers of alternative sources of information. It is likely that in the future it will ensure its monopoly over sociology and opinion polls in order to showcase an acceptable version of Belarusian reality to the world.