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 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.