Belarusian opposition has to shape its attitude towards de facto single opposition candidate

April 22, 2016 19:22

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.

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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.