It is already clear that 2019 promises to be intense both in foreign and domestic policy of Belarus. Here are the top 5 events that are to take place and shape the country’s political life this year.
The signing of visa agreements with the EU
For nearly five years, Minsk and Brussels have been discussing two agreements on visa facilitation and readmission. The second is important for migrants and law enforcement agencies.
Ordinary Belarusians can’t wait for the first document to be signed. As soon as the agreement comes into force, the fee for Schengen visas will be €35 (when issued at the embassy), the number of free and long-term visas will increase.
There’s a chance the agreement will be signed in the beginning of 2019. Another pending issue is the partnership priorities between Belarus and the European Union (EU). The process stuck because of Lithuania claims over BelNPP.
Working group and visa recognition
Starting 2019 Russia’s tax maneuver took effect. It will lead to lead to more expensive fuel and cost the Belarusian economy billions of dollars it can’t afford to lose. Two pre-New Year meetings of Lukashenko and Putin did not lead to a compromise.
All that the parties agreed upon was to create a bilateral working group under the leadership of the Ministers of the Economy. While Russia keeps pushing the idea of deeper integration, Belarus points the finger at all controversial moments in relations between the states.
The gas price for 2020 and deferred signing of an agreement on mutual recognition of visas are also on the agenda. The agreement will make life easier for foreigners who travel to Russia through Belarus and vice versa.
Belarus and US may restore ambassadors
More than 10 years ago, Minsk recalled its ambassador from Washington and asked for an American to exit. Since then, both sides are represented by temporary attorneys and embassies with reduced stuff.
In recent years, the parties are actively discussing the restoration of diplomatic presence. The sides reportedly said their final ‘yes’ at the meeting of Alexander Lukashenko and US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Aaron Wess Mitchell.
A week earlier, Washington made a small step towards and extended the suspension of sanctions against nine Belarusian companies for a year. According to the optimistic estimates, the American ambassador may appear in Minsk by the end of 2019.
Opposition to hold primaries
The Belarusian opposition has tried many ways to choose a single candidate for the presidential election, but to no avail. Now the largest alliance of opposition parties, the center-right coalition, which includes the UCP, the BCD and the For Freedom movement are finally bringing its primaries to its logical end.
The primaries are to start in the spring and end in the first half of 2019. According to representatives of the coalition, so their candidate will have enough time for promotion, including on the parliamentary campaign, if it takes place before the presidential one.
At the registration stage, the right-centrist candidate won’t be the only one. The ‘Tell the Truth‘ campaign, the Belarusian Popular Front and the Belarusian National Congress (with Nikolai Statkevich and Vladimir Neklyaev as the leaders) are planning their own nominees.
By accident of calendar, both presidential and parliamentary election campaigns are to be held in 2020. The authorities have already declared the elections won’t be combined. The presidential campaign must pass until August 30, 2020, the parliamentary – until 10 September by law.
The optimal gap between the two campaigns is six months. This means the first campaign will have to be held until March 2020. However, difficulties in the economy and in relations with Russia may speed up the process. The head of the Central Election Commission called November 2019 as the ideal time for the first election.
Lukashenko has already promised not to hold early presidential elections. So for the time being, early parliamentary elections seem likely to be held. The issue will be resolved in 2019, most likely in the first half of it. Thus, the elections will definitely be called, the campaign will start and probably end in 2019.