Belarusian opposition has to shape its attitude towards de facto single opposition candidate
Tatsiana Karatkevich, candidate from the "People’s Referendum campaign is highly likely to be the only opposition candidate for presidency in the ongoing election campaign. If she is registered as a candidate, both, the authorities and the opposition may resist Tatsiana Karatkevich. Nevertheless, if only one opposition candidate is registered, the opposition will be prompted to reconsider their strategies.
Last week, five candidates for the presidency handed over the required number of signatures to electoral commissions.
The Central Election Commission has received signatures from the following potential candidates: incumbent president (1.761 million), Belarusian Supreme Ataman of the Cossacks and head of the Belarusian Patriotic Party Nikolay Ulakhovich (159,000), LDPB leader Sergei Haidukevich (140,000), independent economist Viktor Tereshchenko (130,000) and “People’s Referendum" initiative activist Tatiana Karatkevich (107,000). United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka and Fair World party leader Sergei Kalyakin have refused from further participation in the presidential campaign due to the lack of required number of signatures for nomination as a candidate.
The fact that two oldest opposition parties have been unable to collect the required number of signatures implies that the whole 20 years of opposition to Lukashenka based on the principle of irreconcilable resistance have gone nowhere. With every election year, the support for the opposition by the population has been declining, as well as the number of opposition activists in these parties. As a result, in 2015, most opposition structures do not have the capacity to participate in the elections.
The split in the opposition in 2015 by ideological clichés masks the real dynamics in the democratic field. In 2015, most party leaders of the same political age as Lukashenka’s rule could not mobilise the remnants of their electorate. Meanwhile the coalition of young leaders, including "Tell the truth!," the Belarusian Popular Front, and ‘For Freedom’ movement managed not only to join their efforts in one coalition, but also partially mobilise activists of the Belarusian Social Democratic party (Narodnaya Hramada), the United Civil Party and "Fair World" party to work for them.
The UCP and Fair World leaders have not recognised their defeat, which would imply that they agreed with de facto redistribution of influence in the democratic camp in favour of ‘young’ leaders and pragmatic strategies of political participation. For instance, Kalyakin’s first reaction to his party’s inability to collect the required number of signatures was an address to his activists to act against all candidates and to treat the “People’s referendum” candidate as a pro-governmental one, as Gaidukevich, Tereschenko and Ulakhovich. Kalyakin’s reaction implies that ‘Fair World’ party will not participate in the 2015 campaign and virtually in other political campaigns. The same is true of the United Civil Party, so as their sole criterion for the ‘real’ opposition was non-participation in the ‘power games’, that is, the legal political process.
Yet it is difficult to predict what strategy the ‘Fair World’ and the UCP parties will chose with regard to Tatsiana Karatkevich – either aggressive criticism, or benevolent neutrality. However, it is clear that Karatkevich will be campaigning in a difficult environment and openly confronted by both, Lukashenka and the radical opposition. For example, ‘Malady Front’ [the "Young Front"] has already issued a statement, which said that fighting against Tatsiana Karatkevich was their primary goal.
Meanwhile, CEC Chairman Lydia Yermoshina reminded about the ban on campaigning for the boycott: “Currently, only campaigning for participation in the elections or for specific candidates is allowed. Campaigning aimed to disrupt the elections, i.e. for the boycott is illegal and may entail administrative liability. If candidates (or their agents) engage in such campaigns, they may lose the status of a registered presidential candidate. This would be absolutely legitimate”.
Overall, democratic activists have de facto chosen the single candidate by collecting required signatures for Tatsiana Karatkevich and failing to do so for Anatol Lyabedzka and Sergei Kalyakin. This will inevitably lead to a complete reformatting of the democratic camp.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.