'Pathways to Power: 2024' will dive deep into the electoral processes, outcomes, and implications of various elections happening in the big election year of 2024.

A note from the editor

The Global Affairs section welcomes you to Pathways to Power: 2024!

2024 is a big year for elections, as around 49% of the world population will have the chance to cast a ballot in a national election. That is more voters than any other year in history. Every election is pivotal, and will set a stage to reshape political landscapes across continents.

Pathways to Power: 2024 will dive deep into the electoral processes, outcomes, and implications of various elections happening in 2024.

The first edition of Pathways to Power: 2024 is on Belarus, where the first and only president of the nation, Alexander Lukashenko, continues to hold strong power.

Belarus’ sham election : Lukashenko’s grip on Belarus tightens

Eric Balonwu

In 2020, protests spread across Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the presidential election by the Belarusian Central Election Commission with 80.1% of the vote. Many western governments disputed the official result, because of widespread credible allegations of vote-rigging, and called for a re-run. The UK Government at the time “declared the elections to be neither free nor fair,” while the European Union announced it would impose sanctions. 

The then main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, claimed to have won the election with between 60 to 70% of the vote and fled to Lithuania days after. In Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya established a “United Transitional Cabinet” in August 2022 which effectively serves both as a ‘government in exile’ and the base of the opposition movement. Protests against Lukashenko continued till well after the election and the opposition movement remains active. The reaction from the Belarusian Government against the peaceful protestors was violent – at least 1,400 protestors were injured (from August to September 2020) and 30,000 were arrested. Currently, Belarusians are still suffering under a repressive government, as the number of political prisoners has grown rapidly to 1,500 from the low single digits in 2015-19 and now just supporting the opposition movement puts you at risk of arrest and torture.  

The 2024 elections are the first elections in Belarus since the 2020 protests and are scheduled to take place on the 25th of February 2024. Belarusians will vote for members in the upper and lower house of the Belarusian National Assembly (parliament) alongside local elections. However, only pro-government parties are allowed to stand in these elections (lots of parties were dissolved in 2023) meaning that not only will these elections be unfree and unfair, they will also be uncompetitive. The opposition is boycotting these elections, claiming they are “a ritual without meaning or justice”. So, the 2024 elections will just be a propaganda tool, and a way to strengthen Lukashenko’s image and prepare for the 2025 Belarusian Presidential elections. 

The real change will occur just after these elections – as they will trigger the establishment of the inaugural All-Belarusian People’s Assembly (ABPA) in April 2024. The APBA will consist of 1,200 delegates whose stated goal is to represent the Belarusian people. It will consist of members of the legislature, executive, judiciary, local and regional government, and some representatives of large civil society groups. In practice, the APBA is designed to further consolidate Lukashenko’s power in both the short-term and the long-term. The real power will lie with a committee of 15 people that Lukashenko will likely chair. 

Belarus has had people’s assemblies before, but the APBA was constitutionalised in 2022 as part of a package of constitutional changes which formally empowered the extra-parliamentary body. The APBA can be seen as a response to the 2020 protests, and as an attempt to show that the Belarussian Government is still democratic and legitimate. 

Historically, these people’s assemblies have essentially been a populist tool to legitimise Lukashenko’s actions. In the 1990s, he used them to try and circumvent an uncooperative legislature, by using the assembly (packed with his supporters) to claim that he had a popular mandate and represented the people. This enabled Lukashenko to take control and use the people’s assembly to pass policy, and ultimately strengthen the power of the presidency.  

It seems that Lukashenko will use the APBA for a similar effect, as the selection process (controlled by the regime) means that the assembly will consist only of Lukashenko’s supporters. Anyone with a criminal record (or those with foreign status) cannot be a member of the assembly effectively disqualifying members of the opposition (as many have been arrested or fled the country). The 2022 constitutional amendments also enable the APBA to: determine the legitimacy of elections; impeach future presidents and guarantee that Lukashenko can also chair this assembly. Therefore, the APBA will effectively allow Lukashenko to control who his successor will be – and remove them if he disapproves of them. 

Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although Lukashenko has strengthened his position relative to 2020, he is not invulnerable even if he has successfully eliminated any electoral competition. Lukashenko’s attempt to consolidate his rule after the 2020 protests, has meant that he has become more reliant on those who protected his regime: the state security force and Russia. The violent state-security force played a crucial role in helping to stop the demonstrators and keep Lukashenko in power. However, their indispensability poses a challenge to Lukashenko, which is why he will likely use the APBA to appoint more civilian-leaders there (increasing their relative power and protecting him from the security forces. 

Moreover, because of the brutal Belarusian reaction to the protest, Lukashenko has become increasingly isolated abroad and so has had to forge closer political ties with Russia. While Lukashenko has historically resisted the idea of a Belarusian-Russian unification, he has always pushed for closer economic ties. Currently, Western sanctions and a labour shortage (because of high emigration from those who oppose the regime) mean that Belarus is economically weak and has to accept greater Russian interference. Lukashenko has made sure that Belarusian elections won’t pose a threat, but that does not mean he has theoretically avoided all possible challenges to his rule. 

While the 2024 elections seem orchestrated to demonstrate and solidify Lukashenko’s stranglehold on power, the Opposition, Putin and Factional competition between civilians and the security make it unclear who will decide Belarus’ future.   

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