A worsening epidemiological situation across the CEE is prompting governments to tighten sanitary measures and reimpose restrictions on cross-border travels, economic and public activities. However, Romania is bucking the regional trend and reopening restaurants, theaters, and cinemas on 1 September. In Bulgaria, the ruling GERB party is negotiating support for the proposed constitutional amendments, which may help Prime Minister Boyko Borisov rebuff calls for his resignation. Meanwhile, a lack of opposition leaders and clear steps for power transition could eventually weaken the protest momentum in Belarus. Finally, pro-Russian parties may lose control of the capital of Latvia (Riga) after 11 years in power, following the snap city council election scheduled for 29 August.
Most countries in the region are coping with the “second wave” of Covid-19. Ukraine has seen new daily cases exceeding 2,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, leading the government to shut the country’s borders to foreigners until at least 28 September. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia have all experienced a sharp increase in infections during the past few weeks, prompting tighter sanitary measures and restrictions on public and economic activities in the affected areas. The situation in the Baltics remains relatively favorable, although new cases are on the rise too. Meanwhile, the “second wave” appears to have peaked earlier in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, where the pandemic is gradually retreating.
Mass protests and strikes at state-owned companies are continuing for the third straight week following the 9 August presidential election. While last Sunday’s protest attracted hundreds of thousands in the capital Minsk, the turnout on Monday was significantly lower, estimated at around 5,000. Despite domestic and international pressure, the disputed President Alexander Lukashenko is unlikely to budge unless he loses control over the country’s coercive apparatus. However, there have been no significant defections until now. Moreover, Russia appears to be tacitly supporting the Lukashenko regime, having sent employees to replace striking workers in Belarus. While protests and strikes are likely to continue, their scale could start declining in the absence of opposition leaders and a plan for power transition.
The ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) appears likely to secure backing from the absolute majority of deputies (120 out of 240) in parliament to start lengthy procedures to amend the constitution. Most deputies in the United Patriots alliance as well as the right-wing Volya party are expected to back the initiative, which may be submitted to parliament on 2 September. The move would help Borisov win more time in office as further debates on the topic would have to be held after two months at the earliest, as required by the constitution. Until then, the Prime Minister would find it easier to dismiss calls for resignation and could blame the opposition for blocking systemic attempts to tackle corruption. Meanwhile, the actual changes to the constitution are unlikely to receive support from the two-thirds of deputies.
After 11 years in power, the pro-Russian Social Democratic Party “Harmony” and its ally “Honor to Serve Riga!” are expected to lose control of the country’s capital following the snap city council election scheduled for 29 August. While the two pro-Russian parties could still win the highest number of seats in the council, they will likely struggle to find coalition partners. Meanwhile, an alliance of the centrist “Development/For!” and the center-left “The Progressives“ is set to win the greatest share of the ethnic Latvian votes, and their mayoral candidate, Matins Stakis, holds the best chance to lead the capital city. Riga accounts for a third of Latvia’s population and generates two-thirds of its GDP.
Key political battles await in September as the vote of no confidence against the cabinet of Ludovic Orban’s (National Liberal Party, PNL) is unlikely to take place this week and the Constitutional Court – which is due to consider the constitutionality of the proposed motion – is on a break until the end of the month. Meanwhile, with the number of Covid-19 infections falling, the government will re-open indoor restaurants, theaters, and cinemas on 1 September. The start of the school-year on 14 September will be an important challenge for municipal administrations ahead of the 27 September local elections, as new Covid-19 outbreaks in schools could negatively affect the incumbents.