A little more than two months is left before the election to local Councils. Being the first serious political campaign after the 2001 presidential election, it will become a barometer of public moods, a large-scale examination of leading political forces in the country an in a sense will shed light on plans and intentions of the authority. As for the interest of Belarusian voters in local elections, the following fact proves its significant growth. Over the last three months the number of those who know when the voting is to take place has jumped from 20% to 37.5%. Besides, as we see from Table 1, today about two thirds of the respondents, i.e. at the initial stage of the election campaign, say they are ready to cast votes for this or that candidate.
Table 1. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question: “Are you going to participate in the election to local Councils?”, %

* In this opinion poll the given variant of answer was omitted

Traditionally, when asked about their participation on the upcoming election campaign A. Lukashenko’s supporters demonstrate a higher degree of civil responsibility. 78.7% of them are going to take part in the election whereas the number among his opponents is lower – 57.0%. In the March 1999 election, according to IISEPS data, 60% (64% according to the Central Election Commission) of those who have right to vote took part in the election. Taking into account the influence of the election campaigning, we can suppose with certainty that this spring the turnout in Belarus will be rather high.
But who will benefit from it to the maximum? What can such high turnout result in? Having no sufficient information on programs of the candidates and often willing to receive no such information, as a result many voters make their choice judging by the concrete candidate’s attitude towards A. Lukashenko and his policy. The latter serves as an indicator here which helps voters to separate “alien” candidates. We shall remind that in September IISEPS documented “an untwining” of the so-called “spiral of silence”. In other words, confidence of Belarusians who speak out for democratic changes in the country that they are not lonely in their opinion and that the majority of the population supports it, has considerably increased. However, so far we have seen no further “untwining” of the “spiral of silence”. As compared to September, there has been no serious change in selection of candidates and estimation of the voting by voters (See Table 2).

Table 2. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question about the nature of the future voting, %

Variant of answer
What candidate would you prefer to vote for
What candidate, do you think, the majority will support
For candidate-supporter of A. Lukashenko
For candidate-opponent A. Lukashenko
Other candidate
In the choice of candidates whom voters are going to support their sympathies between candidates-supporters and candidates-opponents of the president divide in two almost equal parts: about one third of the respondents believes that the majority will vote for candidates-supporters and about one fourth – for candidates-opponents of A. Lukashenko. As usual, supporters of A. Lukashenko are more consolidated than his opponents: 90% of the supporters are going to vote for candidates-supporters of the president, whereas only 58.2% of A. Lukashenko’s opponents are ready to support candidates-opponents (14.6% – other candidates).
There is no change regarding the influence of party membership of candidates upon voters’ choice. Party membership of candidates remains, to put it mildly, a secondary factor in this respect (See Table 3).

Table 3. Dynamics of answers to the question about support for party candidates, %

* The survey was conducted before the final decision about the new leader of the party
** In these opinion polls the given variant of answer was not offered

Here we can suppose that aside form objective reasons contributing to a relative low authority of political parties in the society (an extremely negative, sometimes even hostile attitude of the authorities, scanty financial resources for development of party structures, lack of minimum political culture in wide masses), subjective reasons also play their role. The latter includes a series of splits in several leading parties which often resulted from personal relations of their leaders, a gradual washing out of the opposition consolidation achieved during the presidential campaign, etc.
In this respect local elections, and now it is absolutely obvious, are unlikely to promote mutual understanding in the ranks of the opposition. Probably, the truth is that local elections do not necessarily mean creating a rigid common opposition, especially if formed from the top without paying attention to the opinion of regional structures. Of course, local elections can solve some local tasks which presuppose a high degree of autonomy of parties and movements. In the given case, however, the process of division of yesterday’s partners seems to be of great importance.
The recent events (a number of parties left the Coordination Council of Opposition Political Parties, instead another structure with vague functions was created without the participation of some parties) give no grounds for optimism. We cannot exclude that during the upcoming election we will see a struggle between candidates from opposition parties, who used to forget about existing differences for the sake of the common goal.
In turn, the authorities, in all appearances, are not going to change anything in their approach to elections. The fact that public organizations and opposition parties are insignificantly presented in district and constituency election commissions, undoubtedly, affected the respondents’ estimation of reliability of official data on the future voting results. The number of those who believe that the official voting results will correspond to the real returns is almost equal to the number of those who doubt it (See Table 4). As usual, in similar situations opinions of supporters and opponents of the president are almost mirror opposite.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question: “Will, in your opinion, the official results of the election of deputies to local Councils correspond to voting results?”, %

Fears and doubts of voters could have been easily relieved through an active cooperation with the corresponding OSCE structures, having balanced the election commissions and provided observers from non-state organizations with a possibility to work. The participation of such observers, according to 57.7% of the voters (and almost half of the president’s supporters), would have allowed to ensure a free and fair election.
While the future of the OSCE AMG remains a subject of protracted talks, voters appreciated the activity of the group, which helped to monitor the previous parliamentary and presidential campaign. About 60% of the respondents approve of this activity (and only 15.2% disapprove of it).
Confidence in the voting results under the condition that the election commissions included representatives of all political forces, in the opinion of 70% of the respondents (and almost half of the president’s supporters) would have been much higher (See Table 5). In this respect it would have been logical if the president heeded to the opinion of his supporters. As we know, the election commissions were formed on a different criterion.

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “Many Belarusians do not believe election results, because election commissions do not include representatives of the opposition. What do you think in this respect?”

Variant of answer
Confidence in election results would have been higher if election commissions included representatives of all political forces
Election commissions shall include only those who defend interests of the present authorities
We shall note that regardless of such readiness of a considerable part of the population to take part in the local election, common voters express a paradoxical attitude toward local Councils. The overwhelming majority of the respondents (82%) claim that local Councils and their deputies have almost no influence on their life (less than 10% believe they influence it considerably). That is a natural outcome. Today the competence of local Councils is very limited. And if the present state of affairs suits the authorities, the voters shall, as we see it, think in a different way. However, a little more than one fourth stands up for broadening their powers (See Table 6).

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you think powers of local Councils shall be broadened?”, %

At that A. Lukashenko’s opponents are even more skeptical than his supporters. It turns out that the situation when almost nothing depends on the closest [to the voters] representatives of the authority suits Belarus’ voters. It is hard to say what’s more here – traditional distrust to local government or power representation as such, or rejection of the idea of local government. The matter is that today the majority of Belarusians believes that their problems must not be solved on places or by authorized representatives. Then why shall they go to voting polls?
As we know, democracy as an efficient form of governing derives from the natural desire to put in order the simplest and the most basic needs, which we face daily. To repair a road, to organize public transportation and cleaning streets from snow, to build a sports yard – who can deal with such tasks better than local authorities which you elect yourself and which are responsible to you? If there is no such desire and also understanding of the importance of the functioning of democratic institutions on the local level, there is no point in expecting voters to act more reasonably when it comes to electing the president.