Belarusian authorities start preparing for 2015 presidential campaign
The Belarusian leadership has started to prepare for the presidential election in 2015 by probing issues that could be popular among society and could take central stage in Lukashenko’s campaign.
In the upcoming presidential campaign, one of the authorities’ main objectives is to release tension and overcome the values divide in Belarusian society so as to prevent political destabilisation.
However, the authorities are not considering changing the traditional scenario for the election campaign, which excludes the opposition from fully participating in the election process.
In an interview with Euroradio, Central Election Commission Head Lidia Yermoshina spoke about their fears during the elections, the opposition, the idea to nominate Statkevich as a presidential candidate and why the CEC should not be held responsible for the international recognition of the elections.
After the president’s press conference with the Russian regional media, some political analysts said Lukashenko had started the election campaign. Meanwhile, it is likely that the presidential elections will be held in autumn 2015. Most likely, with his speech Lukashenko meant to air the main themes for the 2015 campaign.
Since the president was unable to refer to progress in socio-economic development due to its absence, he attempted to talk about issues which had previously had a positive effect on his ratings. For example, in H1 2014, President Lukashenko beefed up his anti-corruption rhetoric, and tried to act as the main guarantor in preserving favourable relations with Russia and obtaining bonuses from the Eurasian integration.
At the same time, the Belarusian authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of 2010 presidential campaign and having numerous opposition candidates in the 2015 elections. CEC Head Yarmoshina outlined the likely scenario for the upcoming presidential elections: "I think that at least four people should be on the ballots - three is not enough. What if one candidate suddenly withdraws? There were three candidates in the 2001 elections, albeit initially something like 26 wanted to run. Although, only four were able to collect the signatures".
Even before Yarmoshina’s interview, Vice-Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Gaidukevich mentioned a similar scenario for the 2015 presidential election “Sergei Gaidukevich and Lukashenko will be the candidates, and as soon as the elections are announced, the opposition will accelerate, hold their Congress in the same week (we’ll help to accelerate them) and nominate a candidate from the opposition. Maybe they will fail to agree among themselves – then we’ll have two candidates from the opposition. We do not believe there will be anybody else.”
Unlike during the previous thaw in Belarus-EU relations in 2008-2010, in 2014 the Belarusian authorities managed to impose their agenda in talks with the West and unblock the relations with the EU and the US without fulfilling the basic requirement – the release of political prisoners.
The Belarusian authorities are hoping that relations with Brussels will continue to normalise unconditionally and that the West will cut its support for the Belarusian opposition. Amid the crisis in Ukraine, official Minsk hopes that the West will revise its policy towards the Belarusian leadership. In addition, the pragmatic cooperation between Minsk and Brussels (without political conditions) includes a waiver of political liberalisation, which, according to the Belarusian leadership, could cause political destabilisation in the country and result in attempts to force regime change through mass protests on the election day.
The Belarusian authorities associate the main risks during the 2015 presidential campaign with a potential conflict with the Kremlin, inter alia, over the Eurasian Economic Union. This may be one of the main reasons why the president does not want to hold elections in the spring of 2015. In early 2015 he might have to argue with the Kremlin over the practical applications of the EEU Treaty, which takes effect on January 1st, 2015.
The conditions for the opposition in the 2015 election campaign will be harsher than in 2010. However, the authorities will attempt to narrow the divide in values among Belarusian society by integrating some ideas of the opposition into the state policy.
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.