Belarusian opposition divided into three blocks ahead of 2015 presidential elections
Political opposition in Belarus has divided into three blocks ahead of the 2015 presidential elections. Some opposition organisations will seek to prevent recognition of the presidential election’ results by the international community. This group, led by Anatoly Lebedko will promote political and human rights agenda during the elections. The ‘People’s referendum’ coalition, led by Tatsiana Karatkevich, will aim to prepare for the parliamentary elections and will focus on promoting social agenda. The remaining opposition forces might unite around Elena Anisim or Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu and promote nationalistic agenda. These three opposition groups are very unlikely to unite or form larger coalitions.
Four Belarusian opposition organisations, which form the ‘People’s Referendum’ campaign have established joint headquarters for the next two years in order to participate in the 2015 presidential and the 2016 parliamentary elections. In addition, they have divided responsibilities among themselves: ‘Tell the Truth!’ will be in charge of the 2015 election campaign; the Belarusian Popular Front Party - of forming a single candidate list for the 2016 parliamentary elections (starting now); ‘For Freedom’ movement will be responsible for running the ‘People’s Referendum’ public campaign; and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) – for co-ordinating activities with other democratic forces. The coalition members hope to integrate the presidential and parliamentary campaigns within one strategy. For instance, heads of election HQs for each presidential candidate within the ‘People’s referendum’ campaign will become candidates in the parliamentary elections, which means they will build up on experience they gained during the presidential campaign. The ‘People’s Referendum’ coalition’s longer-term strategy is to preserve the coalition during the post-election period, to increase its overall political capital, and develop a common strategy.
The leader of the so-called ‘non-recognition coalition’, Anatoly Lebedko announced last week that he would create an initiative group to nominate him as a ‘speaker’, rather than a ‘ candidate’ in the presidential election. Such a move could be connected with the coalition’s wish to keep the possibility open to nominate Nikolai Statkevich as presidential candidate. In addition, Lebedko might withdraw from the presidential race, as he did in 2012 – a week before the elections. Another potential candidate from the ‘non-recognition coalition’ is the leader of the ‘Fair World’ leftist party, Sergei Kalyakin – if approved by the party congress. Last week, the organizing committee of the ‘Belarusian Christian Democracy’ party said that they would not nominate their own candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, but would support candidates with similar values and attitudes.
Last week, former leader of the ‘Tell the Truth!’ campaign, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu shed light on his future political plans. He said he was sceptical about nominating himself as a candidate in the next presidential campaign. However, he set up the organising committee to create the movement “for Belarus’ statehood and independence” and revealed plans to hold a street campaign in support for the country’s independence. Nevertheless, it would be premature to exclude Nyaklyaeu’s participation in the election campaign. He might still conclude an agreement with the supporters of the first deputy chairman of the “Belarusian Language Society” Elena Anisim and be nominated from the ‘nationalist’ forces which supported her candidacy. The main issue however is that those supporting the nationalistic agenda speak against participation in the elections in general.
To summarise, three major political agendas have formed ahead of the presidential campaign: traditional political agenda (advocating for changes in the electoral system, political freedoms and prevention of political rights violations), which ultimately seeks to prevent the recognition of the election results by the international community; traditional nationalistic agenda (advocating for independence, national revival, promotion of Belarusian language and culture), which amid Russo-Ukrainian conflict has gained additional popularity; and social agenda, which is relatively new and sets longer-term strategic goals (promoting reforms in education, health, economy and local governance).
It is noteworthy that this year, the democratic forces do not have sufficient funds for running separate presidential campaigns. In addition, for the first time the state will not fund candidates’ campaign materials. All potential candidates intend to use private donations for their campaigns, which will be a challenging task.
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.