Authorities’ plan for the parliamentary elections shapes up
The Belarusian authorities are attempting to restore a political dialogue with the West, using the upcoming parliamentary election campaign. At the same time they intend to avoid major changes in the status of the Parliament (in both, domestic and foreign policy) and in the election process.
On February 6, Chairman of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka said that as a result of the elections authorities intend to create a “quazi-oppositional” political party in the Parliament. According to Mr. Lyabedzka, this project is supervised by the Belarusian KGB.
The keen intensification of the relations between Belarus and the EU in February 2012 indicates that governmental elites close to Lukashenko launched a campaign to revive a political dialogue with the EU. For instance, on 2 February Brussels based Office for a Democratic Belarus, submitted to the European Parliament a list of Belarusian citizens suggesting to lift the EU visa ban for them. On February 3, Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary A. Teikmanis paid an official visit to Minsk and, inter alia, discussed the fate of political prisoners with the Head of the Presidential Administration Vladimir Makey.
On February 8-10, Head of the European Commission’s Unit for Relations with Russia as well as the acting director for Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, and Central Asia, in the Commission’s Directorate-General for External Relations Mr. Wiegand arrived in Minsk. He also discussed the fate of political prisoners. On 9 February, the OSCE leadership urged Belarus to renew the mandate of the field presence of this organization in Minsk. In response, on 10 February President Alexander Lukashenko said he was willing to preserve the continuity of the new Parliament, only at 20-25% (record low).
In these circumstances, the opposition parties see the danger of them falling out of a dialogue between the Belarusian authorities and the EU. As well, the Presidential administration is not interested in the opposition parties to get into the Parliament and to “disturb” its well-tempered work. Therefore, the scenario when “designated” opposition is elected to the Parliament is feasible on principle. However it is not excluded that it is not the KGB who is in charge, usually the Presidential Administration deals with it.
For obvious reasons, the statement of Mr. Lyabedzka is extremely difficult to confirm. Nevertheless, it has primarily safety implications: if the UCP is not able to influence the course of the campaign (which is very likely), while other members of the opposition parties or social movements are able to get into the Parliament (which is unlikely, but possible), then the argument about the collaboration with the KGB will be a universal explanation of success of some politicians and failures of others.
The statement of Mr. Lyabedzka not only points out to the growing crisis of mutual trust within the opposition, but also burns bridges for the UCP. On 6 February the UCP announced its support of an active boycott of the election campaign. The UCP will nominate its members and will use the campaign to inform the population about the absence of democratic institutions in Belarus and then will withdraw all candidates before the voting starts.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.