What voters talk about
On the eve of the parliamentary elections
Press Club Belarus, “Our Opinion”, the website of the Belarusian expert community, and the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) held a regular meeting of the Expert Analytical Club on the topic “What voters talk about” on November 6th 2019.
The participants of the discussion:
- Illia Dabratvor, the BNF Party;
- The Youth Bloc activists Mikita Krasnakucki and Jauhien Karaulau;
- Viktoryja Kalach, the independent candidate;
- Volha Kavalkova, Belarusian Christian Democracy;
- Siarhiei Alsheuski, United Civic Party;
- Mikalai Kazlou, United Civic Party;
- Mikalai Lysienkou, Tell the Truth.
The following experts, journalists, and activists participated in the discussion: Pauliuk Bykouski, Valer Karbalevich, Halina Malisheuskaja, Volha Abramava, Aliaksandr Klaskouski, Ulad Labkovich, Jan Auseyushkin, Alla Talkach, Jauhien Kalach.
The discussion was moderated by Valeriya Kostyugova, Kaciaryna Šmacina, and Anton Ruliou.
The participants discussed the following questions: 1) How did the behaviour of voters change in comparison with the previous election campaigns? 2) What are the prevailing attitudes among the voters? 3) How did the significance of political and civil (public) issues for voters change in the 2019-2020 electoral campaign? 4) What are the socio-political topics which concern voters in particular? 5) What is the socio-political topic which could set the national agenda (and, perhaps become the motto of the presidential election in 2020)? 6) How can the opposition politicians receive interest from the voters when the results of the next presidential elections are predictable?
The voters’ attitude: apathy and aggression
The general tendencies noted by the participants are the radicalization of the voters’ attitudes (including among the elderly) and their aggression towards the authorities. The voters’ apathy towards their participation in the elections and the lack of the belief in the power of their votes are also noted. The greatest scepticism is noted in Minsk. It manifests in both the disappointed statements of citizens regarding the vote count in the elections and in their unwillingness to put their signatures in support of the candidates. There are greater despair and dissatisfaction of the population in the provinces due to low incomes. However, at the same time, the people in the provinces believe more in the importance of their votes in the elections and they are more willing to participate in the collection of signatures for the candidates. Even being convinced that there would be no honest vote counting in the elections the people are still ready to put their signatures for candidates and vocalize their support for the candidates for their active citizenship.
Candidates’ impressions on the collection of signatures and pickets
The candidates were invited to share their impressions on their communication with voters during the period of the collection of signatures. Illia Dabratvor noted that during the previous campaigns the voters preferred non-party candidates, being disappointed in the activities of the political parties. Now the trend is changing, and there is interest in the parties’ agenda and in new names in politics.
Mikita Krasnakucki and Jauhien Karaulau noted that the majority of the supporters of the Youth Bloc’s candidates are young people and students who are directly affected by the problem of the postgraduate work assignments and draft deferment. The Bloc’s candidates address these issues during the election campaign.
Tatsiana Kanieuskaja’s election campaign can serve as an example of the campaign resonating with the voters. She runs in the elections not only addressing the issue of the excessively harsh sentences under Article 328 (“Illicit trafficking of the narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, their precursors and analogues”). Ms Kanieuskaja also attracts attention to the issue of the Belarusian justice in general. She was able to find support among those who faced the injustice of Belarus’ judicial system.
According to Volha Kavalkova, the voters evaluate the biography and competencies of the alternative candidates from the opposition especially carefully. Mikalai Kazlou, in his turn, concluded that the people have a request for a single pro-changes candidate in the presidential election. The participants of the discussion agreed that the voters support the candidates they personally know, whether these candidates are oppositional or government-favoured. A door-to-door practice of gathering signatures shows that the housemates tend to put their signatures in support of the candidates already endorsed by their neighbours.
There were contrary opinions as to whether the oppositional symbols are capable of consolidating voters. According to Volha Kavalkova, the white-red-white flag at the picket attracts attention and the voters start asking questions regarding how could they help and where they have to put signatures in order to support the oppositional candidate. At the same time, according to the experience of Mikalai Lysienkou, the presence of the flag at the similar pickets in Stoubcy caused distrust and affected the number of the signatures collected.
Aliaksandr Klaskouski asked the candidates whether the voters were more interested in the global issues such as public administration and the country’s future or the local issues such as school and road construction and the solution of similar ‘daily’ social issues. The candidates agreed that often the voters expect the MPs to solve their local problems even if these problems don’t fall within their competence.
Creativity, political technologies, and dark PR
Yan Auseyushkin asked the following question: why don’t the candidates use the political technologies, sociological research, targeted advertising and smear campaigns?
Volha Kavalkova noted that such activities would make sense if the elections were fair. The candidate who participated in various election campaigns before and always received the minimal ‘result’ in the end is not motivated to waste resources on technologies which wouldn’t have any effect on the result of the vote.
The Youth Bloc’s representatives noted that they tried to be creative in their campaigns and pickets. They also promote themselves actively using social networks including even Tinder. In such a manner, they raise their visibility.
Siarhiei Alsheuski believes that he faced an attempt to discredit himself during the debate when his opponent tried to accuse him of ‘living beyond his means’ and allowing an expensive vacation. Subsequently, Siarhiei denied such allegations in detail. At the same time, Siarhiei noted that some of his actions were publicly assessed as political technologies: he received such an assessment after filing a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education and drawing attention to the issues in education.
While answering the question on the usage of the sociological data, Valeriya Kostyugova pointed out the high costs of a full-fledged study and reminded the participants about the case of the repressions against the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) and the limitations imposed on the sociological research in Belarus.
At the end of the discussion, the participants concluded that while the results of the elections are totally predictable, the participation in the election campaign allows drawing attention to the pressing issues such as the quality of the water supply, reform of the justice system, postgraduate work assignment, and draft deferment. In addition, thanks to the election campaign, the authorities solve local problems more efficiently and pay more attention to the vocalized discontent caused by various social issues – which would not happen beyond the timeframe of the election campaign.
Author: Kaciaryna Šmacina
Originally published in Russian at Our Opinion