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The participants of the public discussion on the issue of election of the heads of executive committees of regions, districts, and cities/towns by direct vote of citizens have reached the common view that Belarus needs independent local authorities. Such conclusion on the discussion was made by First Deputy Chairman of the Movement For Freedom (MFF) Yuras Hubarevich.

“Actually, the experts had different opinions regarding the need for direct voting at elections,” reported Hubarevich to A package of specific reforms will be developed within a month. “We aim not only to collect signatures, but also to develop proposals concerning the system transformation,” added Deputy Chairman of the Tell The Truth! campaign Andrey Dzmitriyeu.

The ‘mayor’ question of the People’s Referendum will remain unchanged.

The public debate as part of the discussions on the People’s Referendum was held at the MFF office on March 12.

It was devoted to the following question: “Do you agree that the heads of executive committees of cities/towns, districts, and regions should be elected by direct vote of citizens?”

The discussion was attended by Miechyslau Hryb (former Chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus (parliament) of the 12th convocation), Sviatlana Haldade (former Mayor of Homiel), Yuras Varoniezhtsau (former deputy of the Supreme Council of the USSR), Alaksandr Zhuchkou (former deputy of the Minsk City Council), Yuras Nahorny (former Mayor of Baran town), Andrey Zavadski (the Sapieha Foundation expert and former deputy of the Minsk City Council), and Uladzimir Navasiad (former deputy of the House of Representatives (lower part of the Belarusian parliament) and former Deputy Chairman of the Commission on Public Construction and Local Government).

Are Belarusians not ready for direct election of mayors?

Andrey Zavadski thinks it’s regrettable to deny yourself the opportunity to elect the mayor of your city/town; we need to consider, however, whether there are opportunities for this in the context of the established ‘vertical’ of power. In his view, direct elections would only be possible after a set of full-fledged reforms.

The question whether district and city/town heads should be elected by direct or indirect vote is irrelevant, noted Miechyslau Hryb. He suggested starting with direct elections of village and district heads, and to elect the higher leadership at the sessions of Deputies’ Councils. “It isn’t hard to elect a leader, but it could be hard to get rid of such leader later,” said Hryb. He believes the Belarusian people isn’t quite ready for direct elections, which is confirmed by presidential elections.

There is no system of local governments in Belarus today, noted former mayor of Homiel Sviatlana Haldade. “When society has no democratic traditions, when it is intimidated and indifferent, it would be irresponsible to give it such right as election of the heads of city/town or district executive committees,” she said, adding that, without proper reforms, the mayors elected in such a way still wouldn’t have real powers.

The need to reform the system of local governments was mentioned by each panellist. For example, Uladzimir Navasiad noted that such steps are usually taken by the state during the times of economic recession, and it is just such situation in Belarus now. “The reform of the system of local governments serves as foolproofing since the competencies will be divided,” he noted.

We cannot say that the people isn’t ready for democracy

“We need tens or hundreds of Lukashenkas, that is the persons who claim leadership,” said Andrey Dzmitriyeu in defence of direct elections.

According to him, “we should provide an opportunity to the public even to make mistakes when electing mayors, so that the public learns to take responsibility.”

“If people elect a president with unrestricted powers, the more so they can elect mayors,” said Dzmitriyeu.

“In those countries where the laws on local elections were changed, people tend to go to the polls at local elections even more often than at national elections,” noted Alaksandr Zhuchkou. “Reforms must be initiated, and society may reach the level of 1990’s at any time.”

“We cannot say that the people isn’t ready for democracy,” said Yuras Hubarevich at the end of the discussion. “If there is even no small window of democracy in the country, people won’t know they need it. We must try and involve people in this work.”

The question of the People’s Referendum concerning mayors won’t be reworded. During communication with the citizens, however, it will be enriched by proposals on specific reforms of the system of local self-government.

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