Opposition has a seat in Belarus’ Parliament for the first time in twenty years

Tue 13 Sep 2016

Opposition has a seat in Belarus’ Parliament for the first time in twenty years
On the 11th September Belarus’ citizens elected their new Parliament. For the first time in almost twenty years, since 2000, an opposition party member has been elected. Anna Konopatskaya is a member of the opposition United Civic Party and was head of its organization in Minsk. However, her election caused some controversy in opposition circles, as according to official results the relatively unknown politician beat the popular opposition politician Tatyana Karatkevich, who, as a presidential candidate in 2010 had gained the most opposition votes, coming in second, after President Lukashenko. Some pro-opposition observers and media decried the unlikely result, claiming the authorities ‘allowed’ Konopatskaya into the parliament to kill two birds with one stone: show off an opposition MP for the western observers, while not allowing a more popular politician the bigger platform of an MP seat.

Furthermore, Elena Anisim, an independent candidate who has ties to the opposition and is the deputy chairwoman of the Belarusian Language Society, was also elected. The recent elections were closely monitored by Western observers, who had access to the vote count itself. Opposition parties, which boycotted previous elections, now participated since the candidate registration process became more free. From 448 candidates, 200 were from five opposition parties: Belarusian Green Party, Belarusian Left Party “A Just World”, Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), United Civic Party of Belarus and BPF Party. Nevertheless, parliamentarians who are loyal to Lukashenko still hold almost all of the overall 110 parliamentary seats. Belarusian Patriotic Party holds 3 seats, Communist Party of Belarus – 8, Liberal Democratic Party – 1, Republican Party of Labour and Justice – 3. The remaining pro-governmental parliamentarians have no party affiliation.

Western observers
OSCE International Election Observation Mission to Belarus published its Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions on the 12th of September. It has been stated that the elections were efficiently organized, however there is still a number of long-standing systemic disadvantages. The political rights and fundamental freedoms are restricted by Belarusian legal framework, which not always complies with OSCE commitments and international obligations and standards. Even though the opposition parties actively participated in the elections – the election campaign lacked visibility. There was not enough media coverage to inform the voters. Election commissions were not composed in a pluralistic manner, which undermines their independence. Only very few members were appointed from opposition nominees. The procedures of early voting, counting and tabulation possessed numerous procedural irregularities and lacked transparency. A number of OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe Venice Commission recommendations remain unimplemented. There is no centralized voter register and not enough safeguards against multiple-voting. Observers were not allowed to check voter lists or to receive certified copies of result protocols and counting and tabulation were generally assessed negatively.

United Civic Party
United Civic Party was founded in 1995 and is one of the oldest political parties in Belarus. The party mostly follows liberal-conservative principles and strives for respect towards human rights, market economy, rule of law, democracy and private proprietorship. It proposes a political reform with democratic presidential elections according to OSCE principles at its core. Furthermore, Civic Party has a plan for a judicial reform, a vision of local self-government, plans for improving freedom of expression, humanitarian, environmental and health policies and a detailed program of economic reforms. The party can be considered pro-European with the EU membership as a long-term goal.

Sources: Belarus Digest OSCE BBC Time United Civic Party
Photo: Marco Fleber