Category Archives: Belarus

Belarus – Parliamentary elections

In Belarus, parliamentary elections were held last weekend.

The preliminary OSCE election report states: “In the 23 September parliamentary elections, many OSCE commitments including citizens’ rights to associate, to stand as candidates, and to express themselves freely were not respected, despite some improvements to the electoral law. While there was an increase in the number of candidates put forward by parties, prominent political figures who might have played a role in this contest remained imprisoned or were not eligible to register due to their criminal record. The field of contestants was also constricted by arbitrary administrative actions, leading to a limitation of choice for voters. The elections were not administered in an impartial manner and the complaints and appeals process did not guarantee effective remedy”.

According to the Parties and Elections in Europe website, the 110-member parliament will be occupied by 103 independents, 3 deputies from the Communist Party of Belarus, 1 from the Agrarian Party, and 1 from the Republican Party of Labour and Justice. My understanding is that no opposition members were returned.

On 25 September the members of the Upper House were elected. Wikipedia provides the following information about the electoral process: “Eight members of the Council of the Republic are appointed by the President of Belarus and the remaining members are elected by secret vote: eight members of the Council of the Republic are elected from each of the country’s region and Minsk City at sessions of local Soviets of Deputies of the basic level.” According to one report, the new members were elected “almost unanimously”. So, again, there is unlikely to be any opposition.

Belarus – New PM

Following his re-election last December, President Alexander Lukashenko has appointed a new prime minister.

The previous incumbent, Sergey Sidorsky, had been in office since July 2003. He has been replaced by Mikhail Myasnikovich, who was previously the head of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

There is a report (here from France24) that President Lukashenko sacked PM Sidorsky. This seems to be generated by the president’s comment that the government “has to turn into a collective unit” and that Myasnikovich would be the person who would enable it to do so.

PM Myasnikovich was appointed on 28 December. His appointment was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives on 27 January.

Belarus – Presidential election

The presidential election was held in Belarus on Sunday. The incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, was re-elected. Given Belarus is not an electoral democracy, the news is hardly a surprise.

The official results are tabulated by Wikipedia here:

There was a certain amount of post-election violence. Various organisations have denounced the elections. Russia and Kazakhstan have said that they were entirely fair.

There are immediate post-election reports here and here.

‘Difficult’ cases – Belarus

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

It is very tempting to consider Belarus as a case of semi-presidentialism from 1994-96. However, on the basis of the definition used in this blog, it was not. Paradoxically, the constitution becomes semi-presidential at the time when the powers of the president were increased and the country slid into autocracy in 1996.

The first post-Soviet constitution was passed in 1994. The text is available here.

In this constitution, there is no ambiguity over the direct election of the president (Art. 97). However, there is no mention of collective responsibility. Art 100 – 4 states that the president shall “4) appoint and dismiss, with the consent of the Supreme Council, the Prime Minister, his deputies, ministers of foreign affairs, finance, defense, internal affairs, and chairman of the Committee for State Security; appoint and dismiss other members of the Cabinet of Ministers as well as accept the resignation of the persons referred to in this paragraph”. Art. 107 – 2 states “Members of the Cabinet of Ministers shall be appointed and dismissed by the President.  The Prime Minister, his deputies, ministers of foreign affairs, finance, defense, and internal affairs, and the chairman of the Committee for State Security shall be appointed and dismissed by the President with the consent of the Supreme Council.” The competences of the legislature are listed under Art. 83 and there is no mention of no-confidence motions.

In short, the 1994-96 constitution is presidential. As in the US, various senior government figures have to be approved by the legislature individually. However, once they are approved, they can only be dismissed by the president. There is no provision for collective responsibility.

The change comes in 1996. Technically, the 1996 amendments do not constitute a new constitution, but a revision of the 1994 document. The constitution has since been revised in 2004. The up-to-date version is available here.

Again, the direct election of the president is clear (Art. 81). This time, though, the collective responsibility of the government is also clear. Art. 106 states: “The Government in its activity shall be accountable to the President of the Republic of Belarus and responsible to the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus.” Arts. 97 – 5-7 state that the House of Representatives shall: “5) consider the report of the Prime minister on the policy of the Government and approve or reject it; a second rejection by the House of the policy of the Government shall be deemed as an expression of non-confidence to the Government; 6) consider on the initiative of the Prime minister a call for a vote of confidence; 7) on the initiative of no less than one-third of the full composition of the House of Representatives express a non-confidence vote to the Government”. Finally, Art. 106 – 5 states: “The Government shall tender its resignation to the President if the House of Representatives has passed a vote of no confidence to the Government. The Prime minister may request from the House of Representatives a vote of confidence with regard to the governmental Programme or any other issue submitted to the House. If a non- confidence vote is passed by the House of Representatives, the President shall be entitled to accept the resignation of the Government, or dissolve the House of Representatives within ten days, and call on holding new elections. If the resignation of the Government is rejected the latter shall continue to discharge its duties.”

So, even though the list of presidential powers was greatly expanded in 1996 and even though, since this time, Belarus has not operated as a democracy, constitutionally it has had a semi-presidential form of government. This was not the case from 1994-96.

Belarus – Local elections

Local elections were held in Belarus from 20-24 April. The Central Election Commission is reporting that the turnout was 79.5%. A grand total of 21,293 seats were in play in 1,495 councils. It goes without saying that the Belarusian Central Election Commission believes the election to have been a great success.

Other observers have a slightly different interpretation of events. RFE/RL reports that there were only about 360 opposition candidates in total. Moreover, some of them boycotted the election because they were not allowed to campaign properly. In fairness, the Central Election Commission does report that some parties withdrew their candidates, calling such a move “an unsubstantiated demarche”.

Anyway, it is unclear whether any opposition candidates were elected, though there is a very brief report from a Polish source stating that three opposition Christian Democrats were elected. Overall, unlike other election reports, there are, in effect, no voting figures to report. A brief report on the elections from an NGO can be found here.

Belarus – It’s official – election result was rigged

There is an interesting article in the Jamestown Foundation Eurasia Daily Monitor, which claims that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus has admitted rigging the result of the 2006 presidential election.

In an article that apparently appeared in Izvestiya at the end of August, Lukashenka is reported as saying that he did not, in fact, win 83% of the vote at the election. Instead, he claims that he won more than this amount, but that he ordered the official figures to underestimate his support in order to make them appear more realistic! He says that he actually won about 93% of the vote.

The article recalls that certain pre-election opinion polls were putting Lukashenka’s support at about 50-60%. So, there is a strongly ironic tone in the article, which might be expected from this source. Whatever about the tone, the report still conveys nicely the air of unreality that surrounds any president who thinks that reporting a figure of 83% will make support for him look realistic in a supposed democracy.

Belarus – Legislative election

I do not have voting figures yet for the Belarus parliamentary election, though apparently the opposition won no seats whatsoever. The turnout was 75.3%.

There were some demonstration in the capital against the election result, but nothing very major.

Here is the preliminary report of the OSCE Election Observation Mission. It notes that the election fell short of international standards.

There is an RFE/RL article on the elections here.

Semi-presidentialism in the FSU – When did it begin?

The Former Soviet Union (FSU) is the home of a number of semi-presidential countries. In terms of their current constitutions, there are some unequivocal cases of semi-presidentialism: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine. Previously, Moldova was unequivocally semi-presidential too. The situation in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is a little more ambiguous. In both cases, parliament ratifies the president’s decrees that appoint and dismiss the prime minister. It is debatable as to whether this is sufficient to constitute a semi-presidential constitution. The level of responsibility to parliament is low and, in any case, responsibility is only individual and not collective.

Sticking to the unequivocal cases, the question is when do we date the start of semi-presidentialism? In the case of Georgia, the answer is easy. As per a previous post, it became semi-presidential in 2004 after a constitutional amendment. For the other countries, the dates of the first independence constitutions are as follows: Armenia (1995), Azerbaijan (1995), Belarus (1994), Kazakhstan (1993), Kyrgyzstan (1993), Lithuania (1992), Moldova (1994), Russia (1993) and Ukraine (1996).

While these are the dates of the first constitutions, it is common to think of semi-presidentialism starting earlier. This is because in the period immediately following the declaration of independence, and prior to the passage of the new constitution, most of these countries grafted a directly elected president onto the existing Soviet-era constitution. So, for example, the first presidential elections under Soviet-era constitutions were held as follows: Armenia (1991), Azerbaijan (1992), Kazakhstan (1991), Kyrgyzstan (1991), Moldova (1991), Russia (1991) and Ukraine (1991). Given these constitutions were, nominally, parliamentary, this combination of a direct presidential election and a parliamentary system seems to create the conditions for semi-presidentialism. (In Belarus and Lithuania, the first direct presidential elections took place under the first independence constitution. So, there is no doubt about when they began to be semi-presidential.)

All the same, I think we have to be a little careful as to when we date the beginning of semi-presidentialism and for two reasons. Firstly, I am not sure that there are consolidated constitutional documents prior to the passage of the first constitutions. Certainly, I have been unable to find them. If they do exist, then please let me know where to get hold of them. In the absence of a consolidated document, it is to difficult to verify the start date of semi-presidentialism. Secondly, even if there were consolidated documents, would they indicate semi-presidentialism? According to the 1978 constitutions of the socialist republics of the USSR, it is certainly the case that the Council of Ministers was responsible to the parliament (Supreme Soviet) and that there was a person who occupied the position of Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Moreover, prime ministers certainly existed in the newly independent countries from an early point: Armenia (1990), Azerbaijan (1991), Kazakhstan (1991), Kyrgyzstan (1991), Moldova (1990), Russia (1991) and Ukraine (1990). Again, though, in the absence of consolidated documents, it is difficult to verify the specific start date of semi-presidentialismism. Were there other amendments to the constitution apart from just the direct election of the president? Were there changes to the status of the prime minister and cabinet? And so on.

The precise start date of semi-presidentialism can be important because a couple of these countries experienced a brief period of democracy but then collapsed. For example, according to Freedom House Azerbaijan was a partial democracy in 1991 and 1992, but collapsed in 1993. The same is true for Kazakhstan from 1991-93 before its collapse in 1994. Studies about the positive or negative effects of semi-presidentialism on partial democracies do not have a large number of cases to go on. Therefore, the decision about whether or not to include two collapses is potentially important. If anyone has any comments, then please let me know.