As you know, elections to the local councils will be held in Belarus in spring next year. So far not much is being said about these elections in order to attract social attention to them. Moreover, only half a year has passed since the presidential election, the significance and influence of which on the life on an average citizen is immeasurably higher. Nevertheless, as early as now almost 70% of those polled say they are ready to go the polls (See Table 1). Bearing in mind the fact that the electorate’s intentions may change any minute, it would be unfair to say that no one has interest in the elections.
Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “It is known that the election to local Council is to take place in spring of 2003. Are you going to take part in voting?”, %

Let us remind us that one of the eve of the latest local elections in the spring of 1999, Belarusians appeared to more reluctant – 45% of respondents said at that time that they would go to the polls.
Matching these reports with the election turnout (60.2% came to the ballot boxes) and extrapolating them onto the forthcoming elections, we may suppose that next year will see a fairly high election turnout.
It is worth mentioning that A. Lukashenko’s electorate again demonstrates a much higher political readiness in comparison with the democracy-oriented voters – twice as more A. Lukashenko’s supporters said they would go to the polls.
What is the reason why some part of the electorate would not wish to take part in local elections? First comes the disbelief in the chance that the vote will bring victory to the really strongest candidate – around 15% of those polled (24.1% of A. Lukashenko’s opponents) believe that the authorities’ proteges will become deputies all the same. By adding to them the ones who do not believe in the free and fair character of the elections, we will see that almost half of those polled and more than one third of A. Lukashenko’s opponents are ready to ignore the elections today, because they doubt whether it is going to be real elections, when the outcome actually depend on the will of the electorate alone.
Without speculating about how grounded such fears and doubts are, and what Belarusian democrats and the world community should do to dispel those fears, it is worth mentioning that an a-priori-sceptical attitude to the elections as a universal power replacement mechanism is a serious warning for all who wants changes in Belarus.
Without analyzing into who is to blame for the fact that the institution of election – this icon of democracy – is much discredited in Belarus, it is necessary to accentuate the point that this state of matter is not normal and needs changing. This applies to those local elections in the first place. If people do not bother to elect their nearest representatives, whose activities indeed influence their everyday life, it is hard to expect the same lot of people to be more responsible about elections of a higher level, when the link between your decision and its consequences is much less evident. We must admit that the situation here is far from being excellent – more than three thirds of interviewees find it hard to tell the name of the local council deputy, who presents their constituency. Of course, one may object saying that local councils have little power, so not much depends of the deputies. However, one will have to make a beginning all the same and it would be logical to start from the local level, where the link between the choice of each particular citizen and its immediate result in much more evident and clear.
Now a few ideas on the choice to be made by those as early as now decided to go to the polls, and what they think about the choice of the majority.
Here we again observe Noel-Noiman’s spiral of silence phenomenon – just as many people are expected to vote both for pro-A. Lukashenko candidates and candidates opposed to the president. However, 3 times as many interviewees said the majority would vote for the first group of candidates in comparison with the second group (See Tables 2-3). Without taking into account the “floating voters” and adherents of the president, even one third of his opponents thinks the same.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question: “Which candidate would you prefer to vote for?”, %

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: “For whom, do you think, the majority of Belarusian voters would vote?”, %

It has been repeatedly observed that a considerable part of the electorate, which took part in the election, does not have sufficient information about the candidates or their election manifestos, so what they actually do is “a blind vote”. On the one hand – it is a peculiar way to manifest one’s indifference to the election process. But on the other, while making their choice, those voters have to rely on some other criteria than the personal qualities of the candidates and their manifestos. It is at this point that the attitude of this or that candidate to A. Lukashenko becomes perhaps the most important indicator, some sort of an identifying feature for the voters to classify candidates into “friends” and “enemies”.
For the time being, the electorate’s preferences as regards this criterion have slit even. Around 30% of respondents said they would vote for a pro-A. Lukashenko candidate and just as many were ready to support an anti-presidential candidate (See Table 2). Besides, another 15% of those polled are in the mood to lend support to a different candidate, i.e. those opposed to the president have a certain advantage. Now one can observe the good old “here we go again” picture – A. Lukashenko’s supporters still stand solid around their idol, while the opponents are not so homogenous about the positive choice, although they are unanimous in their aversion to those who is linked with the present-day leader of the country.
One should also pay attention to the fact that each 30% of both the “floating electorate” and those opposed to the president are uncertain about their choice they will make, which goes to prove that there is potential for democratic support to increase.
The idea is that it is not in the interests of democratic candidates to build their campaign on sweeping criticism of the state system (for this would affect the candidates’ image) and its major ideologist. One should try, as a manner of saying, to displace the accents in the pre-election situation, which many would wish to reduce to arguments around the personality and policies of A. Lukashenko. The black-and-white perception of life in the country will play into the hands of the authorities. The arguments about democracy and dictatorship, liberalism and nationalism are absolutely inefficient here. It is in the interests of democratic forces, in particular in the local elections, to campaign by means of ideology-free specific programs aimed at improving people’s life standards, whose efficiency or inefficiency would be intelligible to any voter.
Speculations about a comparatively higher value of this or that ideology will hardly be a productive tool in winning the liking of the electorate. A candidate’s membership with a political party will also be of no particular help (See Table 4).

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question: “If you are going to vote for a candidate of a certain party, which party in particular?”

The above holds true not only for some particular opposition political party, but for a bloc of parties, too. Yes, it is true that a greater number of those polled (36.5%) support the idea of establishing a bloc of democratic parties rather than any single party. However, even without mentioning that the bloc has just as many adherents as opponents, we will make an observation that it is far from being a panacea or a magic wand but an organised unity of democratic forces – a most important pre-requirement for success at any elections, especially in contemporary Belarus. However, this bloc should by no means carry ideological principles on its colours instead of being closely ties to regional programme. It takes different moves to achieve success on the local level – do something to touch people’s hearts, arrange for running water supply or a new trolley-bus route or pave the sidewalks.
When it comes to evaluate the job done by electoral commissions, respondents are being fairly critical – around half of them believe the commissions are subjected to the authorities, a third believes that the commissions are guided by the law alone (See Table 5). Just like in all matters of this kind reactions of the adherents and opponents of the president are mirror-like. By way of comparison – evaluating voter turnout reports by the Central Electoral Commission at the previous local elections, just a quarter of respondents had faith in those data, while the majority of those interviewed (60%) had nothing to say on this matter, i.e. the level of confidence was fairly low.

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “Which of the below listed statements do you agree with?”, %

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you think all candidates for deputies of local Councils would enjoy equal conditions during the future election?”, %

Apparently, remembering the two recent election campaigns (presidential and parliamentary), the electorate does not have illusions about the terms of the next local elections. Just a quarter of those polled said all runners for local councils will have equal opportunities, while 57.4% were of the opposite opinion (See Table 6). And, as a matter of fact, the opponents and adherents of A. Lukashenko again demonstrated diametrically opposite views.