2.1. General description, history and key data of the political system

Political system is a complex of state, political and public bodies and organizations participating in the political life of the country.

Political structure of Belarus mainly was formed during the USSR period. In 1917 the prevalence of the Soviet Power was proclaimed. In 1919 the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) was established. In 1922 it was affiliated to the USSR.
There was one-party system. The Communist party was the only one existed. Communist party of the USSR (CPSU) was the highest form of public-political organization, the core of the political system, governing the society. Theoretical base of CPSU was Marxism- Leninism.
After USSR collapse different actors like political parties, NGOs, public associations, movements of opposition had appeared. The procedure of establishment and work of political parties and NGOs, other civil society organizations and associations is regulated by the Law "On Political Parties" (1994), "On non-governmental organizations" (1994), others. In 1994 Belarus became a presidential republic according to the Constitution approved.
Now in Belarus 17 political parties, 2246 NGOs and public associations, 39 trade unions are officially registered (1.09.2006). According to the public opinion poll the highest rating is supposed to have Belarusian women's party, but only 9,2 % of respondents support this party, 6,3% has the Communist party of Belarus, agrarian party - 4,7%. The rating of other from 17 registered parties is within the range 0,7 - 3,5 %.
Political parties and other public associations acting within the framework of the Constitution and laws contribute towards ascertaining and expressing the political will of the citizens and participate in elections.
Only the citizens of Belarus can be founders of political parties. It is necessary to have 1000 members to establish a political party. They are organized according to the principle of territorial belonging in the same way as it is in other countries.
Judges; officers of prosecutor's office, KGB, the state supervisory committee; the military can not be members of political party. All parties must be officially registered in the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus.
In fact, currently, political parties have no real impact upon local government activities and do not participate in the political process at the local level. This is due to the low profile role that self-government plays in the modern social, political and economic system as well as the system of public authority in Belarus.
Public associations and NGOs are established to express interests and requests of citizens which are not related to political sphere. They are non-profitable organizations and participation in the political life is not the main goal of their activity. The activity is focused on formation and expression of interests of some groups and layers of the population. Three groups of public associations are possible to be established in Belarus: international, republican and local. The state can render a financial assistance to public associations. At the same time state tax bodies control financial activity of public associations. Although some NGOs are involved in the development of self-government and local democracy, they are very few.
The creation and activities of political parties and other public associations that aim to change the constitutional system by force, or conduct a propaganda of war, social, ethnic, religious and racial hatred, is prohibited. Public participation

According to the Constitution citizens of the Republic of Belarus have the right to participate in the solution of state matters, both directly and through freely elected representatives.
The direct participation of citizens in the administration of the affairs of society and the state is to be safeguarded by the holding of referenda, the discussion of draft laws and issues of national and local significance, and by other means specified by legislation.
Citizens have the right to vote freely and to be elected to state bodies on the basis of universal, equal, direct or indirect suffrage by secret ballot.
According to the Constitution, citizens exercise their right to local government and self-government through local councils, executive bodies, organizations of community self-government, local referenda, meetings and other forms of direct participation in public affairs.
The system of the local self-government introduced by the Law "On Local Government and Self-governance" includes several forms of public activity, in addition to government bodies. Citizen participation is promoted by involving existing entities as well as by creating new ones. In practice, Belarus has numerous forms of community self-government, such as committees established in neighborhoods, village committees, street and house committees, elders in the rural localities and even elders in apartment blocks. The above mentioned law stipulates procedures for the establishment and activities of community organizations of self-government in city neighborhoods and villages. These bodies are elected by assemblies of residents, which also approve the organizational charters to be registered with the local executive committee. Major provisions to be included in the charters are specified by the Law on the Local Government, primarily relating to their mandates, their territorial jurisdiction and participation by residents in the organization's activities. The term of office for these community organizations should not exceed that of the local council. Community organizations have the right to submit proposals on all activities by local authorities and participate in the subsequent discussion of those issues. (Developing New Rules in the Old Environment. Local Government in Belarus, M. Kobasa, A. Karamyshev, V. Dritz)

Citizen Legislative Initiatives

The Law on Local Government featured provision on legislative initiatives by citizens on issues of local importance. However, the law did not stipulate procedures for realizing this form of direct democracy, instead leaving this matter to local councils. Citizens may submit draft decisions to the local council on issues of local importance. These drafts must be reviewed in an open council session with representatives of the population present, and the results of the review are subsequently publicized in the local media.
To date, local councils have not defined procedures for exercising legislative initiatives and no such practices are in place. This situation reflects both conservatism and passivity on the part of local authorities and the lack of capacity among citizens for legislative work. (Developing New Rules in the Old Environment. Local Government in Belarus, M. Kobasa, A. Karamyshev, V. Dritz)

Forms of Public Participation

Other forms of participation in local affairs have also been legally established. For instance, local inhabitants may initiate proceedings to dismiss council members who have failed their trust or discredited their position. A special section of the Electoral Code addresses this issue. Grounds for dismissing council members include the violation of the Constitution or legislation and actions which discredit their dignity and position. To begin the proceedings, an initiative group appeals to the council chairman and requests that a meeting of voters in the particular electoral district be convened to resolve the issue. While citizens may dispute the refusal to convene such a meeting in court, they do not possess the right to convene the meeting independently. Council members are guaranteed the right to be present and defend themselves at the meeting. In addition, this issue may not be raised more than two times in one year. Other than these, there are no guarantees. To date, no council members have been dismissed in this manner.
It must also be mentioned that the Law "On Citizens' Appeals" (1996) grants citizens the right to submit proposals to various government bodies. This method of citizen participation is actively in use. In general, however, citizen appeals are more concerned with issues of everyday life, such as the improvement of housing conditions and capital repairs for housing. Topics raised also include the maintenance of parks and recreation facilities, the construction and functioning of mini-markets, etc. Since local authorities do not always display an adequate level of understanding for these concerns, citizens often feel that the only way to seek redress is by directly appealing to the president. (Developing New Rules in the Old Environment. Local Government in Belarus; M. Kobasa, A. Karamyshev, V. Dritz)

Local Referenda

The first Law on Referenda in Belarus was passed in 1991. In this law, referenda were conceived as a method of adopting an obligatory decision or consulting public opinion on important issues of local life. Referenda were not deemed to be mandatory for any specific issue. Certain issues were excluded from consideration by referenda; these included emergency measures for protecting public order, taxes, the budget and the appointment of local government officials.
The right to conduct referenda was subsequently established in the Constitution. Currently, the Electoral Code regulates referendum procedures, replacing the previous law on referenda. The Electoral Code, however, does not stipulate for a consultative referendum
Decisions on conducting a referendum fall under the exclusive competence of the local council. The local council may initiate a referendum through a council decision, whereas previously the support of only one-third of local council members was required. An initiative group of at least twenty local members (or as established by law) may initiate a district referendum. The composition of the group and the issue to be considered by referendum are registered with the executive committee, after the court gives its approval. The denial of registration may be appealed in court. Whereas signatures from five percent of the referendum's original supporters were previously required for a court appeal, this requirement has now been increased to ten percent.
Issues of national importance may not be decided by referendum, nor may issues related to the appointment or dismissal of officials within the competence of the local executive committee or its head.
Not one local referendum has been held in Belarus. (Developing New Rules in the Old Environment. Local Government in Belarus; M. Kobasa, A. Karamyshev, V. Dritz)