The Republic of Belarus is an authoritarian presidential state. Its current president, Alexander Lukashenko, is in office since July 1994. Since the parliamentary elections of 11 September 2016, the parliament is once again fully occupied by government loyalists. The Belarusian Patriotic Party holds 3 seats, the Communist Party of Belarus 8, the Liberal Democratic Party 1, and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice 3. The remaining 93 pro-governmental parliamentarians have no party affiliation. For the first time in almost twenty years, since 2000, two oppositionists have been elected. Anna Konopatskaya is a member of the opposition United Civic Party and was head of its organisation in Minsk. The other MP is Yelena Anisim, an independent candidate who has ties to the opposition and is the deputy chairwoman of the Belarusian Language Society.
In all, the 2016 elections were reported to be neither fair nor free. The authorities were de facto appointing themselves, not for the first time. Severe human rights violations and restrictions on media are constantly reported in the country. There were a number of political prisoners, but they were released in late August 2015, which could have much to do with the presidential elections that took place on 11 October 2015. The country is the last one in Europe to still have the death penalty which it carries out. Belarus is highly dependable on Russian subsidies and resources.
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- 9,513,000 (World Bank 2015 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- De jure republic; de facto dictatorship
- Ruling Coalition:
- Last Elections:
- 11 September 2016 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2020 (presidential elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada), Belarus Party of Labour (BSDP)
The presidential elections are the most important in Belarus, as the state has turned into a strong authoritarian presidential republic. In part, this is related to the breakdown of the opposition’s structures after the presidential election of 2010 and the overall internal situation in the country, which is not conducive to independent initiatives. Unfortunately, there is no indication that this situation will change. Changes to the Electoral Code, in force since December 2013, criminalised election boycotting. The key features of the Belarusian electoral process remained unaffected: neither the existing legislation, nor its implementation provides the basis for free and fair elections. The leadership remained reluctant to conduct structural reforms considering the uncertain future of financial transfers from Moscow, particularly as Russia’s own economic situation worsened. Corruption remains a serious problem in the country as well. However, the existing practices and planned legislative changes confirm the government’s agenda to identify and punish corrupt officials, rather than prevent and eradicate corruption as a sociopolitical phenomenon. Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 has ranked Belarus 107 out of 167 countries.
Political rights, civil liberties and human rights
Systematic violation of human rights, in particular civil and political rights, continues in Belarus. Peaceful protesters are repeatedly arrested and sentenced to short periods of detention. The authorities continue to use arbitrary detentions, searches, interrogations and misdemeanor charges on bogus grounds to harass and intimidate government critics, especially journalists and opposition activists. The authorities extended sentences of several remaining political prisoners, as in the case of 2010 presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevitch. He was charged with violating prison rules and moved to a harsher penitentiary institution. These prisoners were subjected to undue restrictions, psychological pressure, and other forms of ill-treatment as punishments. They were, however, released in late August 2015, likely to soften Western criticism in the run-up to the presidential elections of 11 October 2015. The use of the death penalty continues. Belarus is the only country in Europe that still has the capital punishment and it has executed four people in 2018, with at least one person on death row in 2019. The Freedom House has evaluated political rights and civil liberties in Belarus with a 6.5 (1 being most free and 7 the least free).
Freedom of expression is severely restricted. The media remains largely under state control, and is used to smear political opponents. Independent media outlets are harassed - including with searches of their offices - and bloggers, online activists and journalists are subjected to administrative and criminal prosecution. State-run distribution outlets refuse to disseminate independent periodicals and internet activity remains closely monitored and controlled, especially after the parliament adopted amendments to the media law, enabling the Ministry of Information to shut down online news outlets. The authorities recently started using an article of the Administrative Code on “unlawful creation and dissemination of mass media produce” to prosecute freelance journalists writing for media outlets based outside Belarus, claiming that they require formal accreditation as foreign journalists with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Belarus is ranked 153 out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
For presidential elections to be valid, a turnout of 50 percent of the registered voters is required. For a candidate to be elected as president, he or she must receive more than half of all the votes. If no candidate achieves this, a second election round has to be held within two weeks. The president is elected for a five year term. Elections in Belarus are primarily regulated by the constitution, the Election Code and the Central Election Committee (CEC).
Parliamentary elections are held every four years through a simple majority vote, with the outcome decided by overall majorities in single-member constituencies for the 110 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower house of the National Assembly. In addition, the upper house of parliament, the Council of the Republic, comprises 64 members, with representation which is geographically based. The members of the Council of the Republic are appointed by the President and elected in a secret voting procedure. Belarus also holds elections for local councils of deputies, who are also elected for a period of four years.
In the most recent parliamentary elections, held between 6 and 11 September 2016, President Alexander Lukashenko’s loyalists won 108 of the 110 seats. For the first time in twenty years, two oppositioners were elected: Anna Konopatskaya from the United Civic Party and Elena Anisim, unafilliated.
On 16 September, the CEC of Belarus approved the election results to the House of Representatives, 28 of which have been members of the previous parliament. The new parliament of the sixth convocation has been completed by approving respective senators of the National Assembly’s upper house. The vote itself took place on 13 September at local councils’ sessions. Every region and the city of Minsk elected together 56 senators, an additional 8 of them were selected by the president, adding up to a total of 64 member of the upper house.
According to OSCE post-election reports, the election campaign remained “barely visible” in most parts of the country, despite a light increase in activity during the last two weeks before the elections. The campaign is reported to have taken place in a controlled environment, with regulations limiting its basics, including holding meetings with voters, printing and distributing campaign materials, as well as accessing the media. Thus, the low-key campaigning activities, correlating with the general public disinterest inclined international observers to raise questions on the voters’ ability to make informed choices on election day.
The elections were followed closely by the ODIHR and OSCE, which deployed a mission of 10 core team experts from ten states, based in Minsk; 38 long-term observers, deployed throughout the country; and 100 short-term observers from OSCE/ODIHR participating states. The elections were also monitored by party members, citizens and members of NGOs. From 2,477 accredited observers, 2,537 represented political parties (Communist party of Belarus, Republican Labour and Justice Party and Belarusian Agrarian Party). NGOs included 19,217 observers (Belarusian State Youth Union, Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus and Belaya Rus’. Labour collectives nominated 1,224 observers.
Post-election reports by the observers state that, despite the minor improvements such as the reformed Electoral Code, the elections took place in an overall atmosphere of repression and intimidation. They were not administered impartially, and key OSCE commitments such as the citizens’ rights to associate, stand as candidates and the right to free expression, were not respected. Even though the opposition parties actively participated in the elections, the election campaign lacked visibility. On 12 September, the Spokesperson on the parliamentary elections in Belarus of the European Commission issued a statement which acknowledged Belarus’ visible efforts to address some long-standing issues, while calling for a comprehensive electoral reform in cooperation with international partners.
Reaction of the opposition
The day after the elections, dozens of opposition activists organised a protest in the centre of Minsk against the unfair parliamentary elections. It was initiated by one of the former opposition presidential candidates, Nikolay Statkevich, who said that people are running out of patience and the 12 September protest is the beginning of a political campaign for new and fair elections. Opposition leaders share the opinion that Anna Konopatskaya and Elena Anisim were appointed by Lukashenko and thus will not improve the position of the opposition.
On 11 October 2015, presidential elections were held in Belarus. Incumbent Alexander Lukashenko won re-election for a fifth term with a landslide victory of 83.49 percent, according to official results. The rest of the candidates received less than 5 percent.
|Candidate||% of votes|
|Alexander Lukashenko (Incumbent)||83,49 %|
|Tatsyana Karatkevich (Havary Pravdu)||4,42 %|
|Syarhey Haydukyevich (Liberal Democratic Party)||3,32 %|
|Mikalay Ulakhovich (Belarusian Patriotic Party)||1,67 %|
|Against all candidates||6,5 %|
Official CEC reports presented overall 86.7 percent turnout. According to OSCE observers, "It is clear that Belarus still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its democratic commitments". The OSCE welcomed the release of political prisoners ahead of the election, but "the hope that this gave us for broader electoral progress was largely unfulfilled". The OSCE added that "despite welcome post-electoral engagement on the part of authorities to consider OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, amendments introduced after the 2012 elections did not address some of the key recommendations". The OSCE reported that they were denied access to check voter lists at some locations, and reported instances of ballot box stuffing and group voting. Especially the counting process was assessed negatively, in 25 percent of the cases the OSCE was not allowed to observe the count. The OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) also criticised the fact that the precinct election commissions (PECs) are responsible for voter registration and there is no permanent or centralised voter list, so that there could be multiple registrations, or voters could be taken off of the voter lists. Furthermore the OSCE and PACE noted the "relative public disinterest" in the election that was "accentuated by modest turnout at most campaign events". Unlike the last elections, there were no massive protests after the election results, as only some hundreds of people protested and there were no violent altercations with the police.
Social Democratic Parties
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