Belarusian opposition hopes for non-recognition of presidential elections by international observers
Neither the Belarusian leadership, nor the opposition have yet determined the final scenario for the presidential campaign. The opposition is mostly focusing on organising the election observation in order to collect evidence of violations, which could be used to advocate for non-recognition of the elections by the international observers. Amid the overall low political activity in the country, inter alia, among supporters and opposition to the current authorities, the authorities’ major headache is how to ensure the required turnout on the election day.
The Central Election Commission will register candidates for the presidency at the meeting on September 10th.
Four action groups have already collected 100,000 signature required to register their candidates for presidency in the upcoming elections, including Alexander Lukashenka (over 900,000 signatures), independent economist Vladimir Tereshchenko (128,000 signatures), Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus Head Sergei Haidukevich (over 120,000 signatures), and Tatsiana Karatkevich from the "People’s Referendum" initiative (100,000 signatures). Two more opposition candidates still have the opportunity to overcome the 100,000 threshold: United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka and ‘Fair World’ party Chairman Sergei Kalyakin. Meanwhile, human rights activists and independent analysts have questioned the credibility of the information about the number of signatures collected by action groups of Sergei Haidukevich and Vladimir Tereshchenko.
Some independent analysts and part of the opposition reckon that having opposition candidates on the ballots would be an essential factor for the international observers while assessing the electoral process. In their viewpoint, western capitals might recognise (with reservations) the presidential elections if oppositional candidates were on the ballots.
In fact, it would make sense for the authorities to register all potential candidates. The CEC head Yarmoshyna encouraged voters to support potential candidates “so that the election campaign was interesting, diverse and with alternatives”. The authorities fear a low turnout in the elections, and having only one opposition candidate on the ballot would hardly mobilise supporters of the opposition or the incumbent president.
It is worth noting that in the ongoing presidential campaign opposition candidates have focused on working with electorate in the regions. Perhaps, this was because the so-called ‘Maidan’ scenario was no longer on the agenda and that voters in the regions were greatly disappointed with the existing socio-economic policies of the authorities.
In the existing circumstances, when the opposition is no longer seeking to change the power through the presidential campaign, some opposition organisations have united under the Right of Choice 2015 initiative, which aims to achieve non-recognition of the election results by Western capitals. However, the authorities are aware of that too and may act accordingly. For instance, in 2006 the organisers of an independent election observation through ‘Partnersvo’ initiative were prosecuted on criminal charges. Yet the authorities are unlikely to go that far in 2015 – for the incumbent president ultimately dominates in the ongoing campaign and the opposition has abandoned the ‘mass protests on the election day’ scenario.
Overall, the authorities are likely to register all potential candidates who would submit the required number of signatures without any serious violations.
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.