Belarusian opposition divided into three blocks ahead of 2015 presidential elections

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April 22, 2016 19:12

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.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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