Belarusian opposition steps up activity before parliamentary elections
Belarusian opposition parties appear to be more eager to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections due to the absence of harsh repressions by the state and boosted demand for alternative from the population. Meanwhile, the opposition is divided and tension is growing between supporters of protest activity and those standing for full participation in the electoral campaign. The boycott supporters are likely to step up their criticism as the authorities exclude the most determined opposition leaders from the parliamentary race.
The authorities have registered 304 initiative groups of citizens to collect signatures to nominate candidates for deputies to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the sixth convocation.
Currently, there are circa three contenders per seat for 110 seats in the lower house of the parliament and their number is likely to increase by late July. The deadline for nominations expired on July 7th, but district election commissions still have over a hundred of applications to consider from 479 applications to register initiative groups. Compared with the 2012 parliamentary elections, when 440 applications to register initiative groups were filed, there is somewhat more activity during the ongoing parliamentary campaign.
Some opposition activists use two ways to nominate their candidates - by collecting more than 1000 signatures per candidate and political party nomination. Since many organisations have departed from the idea of the boycott, they are more active in the ongoing parliamentary campaign. For instance, political parties (mainly oppositional) have already registered 103 initiative groups, which is triple of those registered in the 2008 parliamentary elections (66 groups).
That said, the Belarusian Popular Front and Fair World leftist party previously declared they would nominate 80 and 60 candidates respectively. In addition, pro-governmental Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus (LDPB) said it would nominate candidates to each of the 110 constituencies.
Pro-governmental candidates also use both ways to nominate their candidates, but more often - collect signatures. In addition, they nominate candidates from labour collectives. Like the opposition, nominees from the authorities collect signatures to have an additional propaganda opportunity and gain support among the population. Moreover, they have the opportunity to work with labour collectives, which is out of the question for the opposition.
Simultaneously, tension has been growing in the Belarusian opposition between supporters of protest activities and those supporting participation in the election campaign. Former political prisoner Nikolai Statkevich said he might withdraw all the candidates of the Belarusian National Congress (26 initiative groups) from the race if his initiative group was not registered.
Some democratic organisations, such as REP trade union, have already announced their refusal to participate in the elections. Most likely, participants in the Congress, led by Statkevich will be forced to leave the parliamentary race and will de facto boycott the elections. In addition, as these supporters of protest activity are refusing to participate in the elections, they are likely to toughen the rhetoric against their former partners in the opposition. Other political parties, however, are determined to participate in the ongoing parliamentary campaign in full.
In addition, the opposition is planning to carry out election observation, which will require many activists, who will be unable to participate in the campaigning. For instance, the "Right of Choice" campaign includes virtually all major party structures, which nominate their candidates.
Most likely, after the Congresses in mid-July, the number of nominees from political parties to the parliamentary elections may double. The authorities, however, may take a harsh stance on registering the most critical opposition candidates.
Image: Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections
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.