Three candidates, Ryhor Kastusyow, Ales Mikhalevich and Yaraslaw Ramanchuk, took part in the first round of an online presidential debate hosted by Belarus’ largest web portal, tut.by, on Wednesday.
Mr. Ramanchuk, the nominee of the United Civic Party, said that if elected president, he would reform the budget system, cut the government’s expenditures and introduce medical insurance schemes.
He said that he was an opponent of the construction of a nuclear power plant in the country. "It doesn’t make sense to build it. The project is not commercially viable," he said. "How much will the energy and the burial of waste cost? Why are we speaking about the diversification of energy suppliers if everything that the plant may need is to come from Russia?"
Mr. Ramanchuk suggested that the authorities should not bring talks with Russia about its natural gas and oil prices for Belarus to the governmental level. Belarus should conclude long-term contracts and pay world prices not to get into a "trap," he said.
Mr. Mikhalevich, a former deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, said that he was the only candidate who did not promise voters to raise pay. He said that he would cut expenditures on the maintenance of the state apparatus, predicting that the International Monetary Fund and other international lenders might even restructure Belarus’ external debt and offer the country a longer repayment period in exchange for reforms.
Mr. Mikhalevich shared the opinion that Belarus should pay world energy prices to Russia and criticized the government’s efforts to maintain a competitive exchange rate with the dollar.
Mr. Kastusyow, deputy head of the Belarusian Popular Front, pledged to replace the current constitution with its 1994 version and give the white-red-white flag and the Pagonya emblem the status of state symbols.
He said that he wanted to make the Belarusian language the only official language in the country. "We have a program for the revival of the Belarusian language that is to take 10 years. It is not normal for the state language to be in decay," he said, promising to leave in place Russian-language schools and create conditions for the promotion of languages used by ethnic minorities living in Belarus.
Mr. Kastusyow also called for reduced expenditures on the state apparatus and law-enforcement agencies to make more funds available for support of young families and housing construction. "If we stop maintaining officials of the Union State, we will have enough money to restore travel concessions," he said.