Belarusian opposition steps up struggle for leadership before Parliamentary elections
As the Parliamentary elections draw closer, the competition among the Belarusian opposition leaders for activists to participate in the elections is enhancing. Meanwhile, street protests do not gather many participants, who could support promising candidates. Regardless of the efforts of regional activists, opposition parties are unlikely to join their efforts, since many believe this would strengthen positions of former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich.
The Minsk City Executive Committee has rejected the request from ‘Perspektiva’ leader Anatoly Shumchenko and politician Nikoali Statkevich to hold a rally of entrepreneurs on March 14th.
The Parliamentary elections in Belarus should be held no later than September 11th, 2016 and the election campaign will start in June this year. Virtually all political parties with developed regional structures have started preparations for the 2016 parliamentary election campaign.
However, disagreements have emerged even between former allies-supporters of street activity, such as the United Civil Party Leader Anatol Lyabedzka and former political prisoner Nikolai Statkevich. That said, Nikolai Statkevich is aspiring to lead the protest movement and unite the irreconcilable opponents of the incumbent president and supporters of street activity. He has repeatedly stated his ambition to lead the opposition movement and emphasised that he was the president’s main rival.
After his release from prison in August 2015, on a wave of popularity, Statkevich came up with an idea to unite all the opposition and hold the Congress of Democratic Forces with broad representation. However, right from the start, he would deny former communists of the ‘Fair World’ party and representatives from the ‘Tell the Truth!’ campaign with former presidential candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich the right to participate in the Congress.
Meanwhile, the Congress initiators have not yet outlined a clear and precise purpose of the event, only made broad statements about the need to unite the opposition forces. Nevertheless, Nikolai Statkevich is actively promoting the idea among activists, and, eagerly participates in events organised by other opposition parties.
Interestingly, Statkevich’s idea is quite popular among regional activists of opposition parties, who conventionally sympathise the idea of joining forces to fight the "regime".
Meanwhile, Statkevich’s attempt to organise a well-represented oppositional event has caused tension in relations with other opposition leaders. They regard this initiative of former political prisoner as a threat to their human capacity and fear of activists outflow to a new opposition movement lead by Statkevich.
Indeed, the Congress’ Organizing Committee has already demonstrated an aspiration for a place in the opposition line-up of forces. For instance, Congress initiators have decided to join ‘The Right of Choice’ coalition party observation as an independent partner. On February 28th, Statkevich held a founding meeting of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Gramada), which on the one hand enabled him to participate in the Congress on par with other political parties’ leaders, but on the other hand lowered his claims, so as until then he had never been on ‘equal terms’ with other leaders.
In addition to contradictions between the parties, the crisis has penetrated parties per se. For example, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) (the only of thee social democratic parties with similar names, which has preserved regional structures and activists), which nominated former rector of the Belarusian State University Alexander Kozulin as presidential candidate in 2006, is preparing for a founding meeting and election of the party leader. There are two main competitors for this post are current chairwoman Veshtard and ‘Tell the Truth!’ activist Maslovsky, who make public recriminations and conspiracy allegations.
Overall, in the coming months, rivalry between the opposition leaders over activists is likely to step up. This may lead to conflicts and recriminations, however, parties are likely to attempt to nominate the maximum number of candidates for parliament.
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.