Belarusian opposition aims to expand support base amid growing tension in society

February 13, 2017 10:32

Most opposition parties are attempting to reach out to new social groups beyond the traditional opposition electorate from those affected by the decree on ‘social parasitism’. Different opposition groups offer a variety of approaches to opposing the decree on ‘social parasitism’ and albeit conventional supporters of the opposition are somewhat disoriented, it creates the preconditions for expanding the support base of democratic institutions and achieving success in revoking or amending this government initiative.

"Tell the Truth" campaign has invited ‘social parasites’ from across the country to discuss an action plan.

The opposition is using a wide range of means to engage those affected by the decree on ‘social parasites’ in party activities both, in the capital and in the regions. This includes signing a petition to abolish the decree and recall MPs; sabotage; litigating with the authorities; holding pickets, marches, round tables, and meetings with government officials; inter alia, through the Internet and social networks. By using different approaches, the opposition is able to reach out to broad population groups, which somewhat bridges diversities among the parties.

Organizers of the Belarusian National Congress (BNC) aim to mobilise supporters of street actions by organizing a ‘March of perturbed Belarusians’, an unsanctioned rally. “Tell the Truth" campaign aims to recruit new activists with no experience in politics by applying ‘safe’ pressure on the authorities. The centre-right coalition aims, on the one hand, to stop their supporters from joining the BNC led by Statkevich with harsh rhetoric and street actions (sanctioned by the authorities); and on the other hand, to attract new activists through MP Kanopatskaya and other forms of legal activity.

Amid growing tension and discontent in society, the authorities are showing concern about growing potential for street activity and engagement of new social groups. In the regions, local authorities refuse to sanction mass activity organised by the opposition in support for the abolition of the decree and impose heavy fines on participants in unauthorised actions. However, so far, the law enforcement has not taken any preventive action against the organizers of the unauthorized March. Perhaps, they count on differences among various opposition centres to build up over pressure strategies on the government.

Overall, some democratic organisations are attempting to step beyond the traditional opposition core inclined to boycott election campaigns. Should new social groups start supporting the opposition, its electoral potential would enhance by the local elections, scheduled for early 2018.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.