Belarusian authorities have concerns about opposition not participating in presidential race
The Belarusian opposition considers the presidential campaign only as an intermediate stage in preparing for political campaigns in case the socio-economic model falls into a crisis. The Belarusian authorities have voiced concern about the opposition lacking an agreement about the opposition candidates and the presidential campaign scenarios. However, if the ‘People’s Referendum’ campaign nominates a female presidential candidate, the Belarusian authorities might face difficulties with discrediting their opponents and using force during the election campaign.
Opposition politicians have started refusing to participate in the 2015 presidential elections.
Last week, ‘For Freedom’ movement announced that it would not nominate its candidate or support others in the 2015 presidential race. Earlier, ‘Nash Dom’ campaign and its leader Olga Karach has made a similar statement. The authorities have not quite expected such moves, as they hoped to have many candidates in the upcoming presidential campaign. Nikolai Lozovik, CEC Secretary, said the authorities were disappointed about the lack of clarity in the opposition’s plans in the elections: “We would like to see the opposition to be more actively involved in the preparations for the presidential elections”.
All last year, opposition leaders tried to agree on the ‘single candidate’ nomination procedures for the 2015 presidential elections, but to no avail. Earlier this year, the ‘People’s Referendum’ initiators tried to identify a joint candidate for the presidential campaign from this coalition. Recently they named a few possible presidential candidates, among which, however, neither Nyaklyaeu, nor Milinkevich were listed.
Currently, their readiness to take part in the presidential race have confirmed incumbent President Aliaksander Lukashenka, Anatol Lyabedzka, the United Civil Party leader, Sergei Gajdukevich, LDPB leader, and Tatsiana Karatkevich, activist of the ‘Tell the Truth!’ campaign – her nomination has also been supported by the Belarusian People’s Front.
The Internet audiences have favourably received the female candidate. According to the polling results on TUT.BY Internet portal, Tatsiana Karatkevich has won the highest number of supporters finishing well ahead of other potential women candidates. Several women’s organisations have also supported Karatkevich’s nomination. Tatsiana may become the first female presidential candidate in the history of independent Belarus. The Belarusian propaganda has not yet dealt with female candidates and may not have sufficient arsenal for that.
President Lukashenka seemed satisfied that the opposition, influenced by events in Ukraine, had abandoned their strategy of force regime change on the election day, “they thereby demonstrated that they are not ready to take power in Belarus and to retain the country. I am glad if it is so. They are not trying to gain power – thank God! If you cannot retain the country, you should not take the power, should take this responsibility.” Meanwhile, IISEPS’ polls suggest, that Lukashenka’s ratings continue to fall due to deteriorating socio-economic situation and reduced social protection.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have launched a mobilisation campaign in preparation for the elections. Interior Minister Ivan Shunevich said that the law enforcement agencies were ready for any developments and assured the Belarusian MPs that “special preparations for the elections are carried out not only by the Interior Ministry. This is a very significant and important event.” In addition, ‘Belaya Rus’ quango and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union have revitalised and stepped up their activities.
The opposition, however, is not very active in preparing for the upcoming elections. For example, ‘For Freedom’ movement plans to continue to popularise the “People’s Programme’s” economic provisions and the "People’s referendum" peaceful change strategy, carry out election observation and campaign for the release of political prisoners.
The opposition might nominate several candidates for the presidency and unite its efforts in the framework of electoral alliances. The authorities are interested in the opposition determining their election policies as soon as possible in order to prevent the 2010 scenario – with many alternative candidates and the lack of clear vision on the election day.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.