Belarusian society showing signs of fatigue given the long rule of President Alexander Lukashenko
According to the Central Election Commission, 14 individuals submitted applications to register initiative groups nominating candidates for presidency.
The fatigue from 21 years of President Alexander Lukashenko’s leadership of the country along with his socio-economic policies is growing in Belarusian society. Half of the nominees who submitted their applications to register initiative groups have no experience in politics, do not belong to any political faction, stress their loyalty to the incumbent president or are in favour of the gradual transformation of the Belarusian regime. It is doubtful that the authorities will register initiative groups of exotic nominees, or that they will allow them to progress to the subsequent stages of signature’ collection necessary for nomination as candidates.
Of the 14 candidates for presidency who submitted applications to register their initiative groups, only 8 have experience in politics or represent a political faction. Moreover, several exotic nominees did not manage to submit documents to the CEC or refused to do so at the last moment. At the same time, a record number of potential female candidates – a record number for Belarus – submitted applications for registration – 4 initiative groups.
Society’s dismissal of the possibility to change the incumbent head of state through the elections as well as a lack of alternative candidates with significant political capital have led to a parade of ‘random’ and exotic candidates. Nominees, previously unknown in politics, often choose not to conceal their lack of seriousness regarding their intentions in terms of participation in the presidential campaign. Some of those who have declared their willingness to run for presidency use it as gifted opportunity to attract the attention of the media to their person or business.
Besides, some independent nominees do not consider themselves a part of the opposition and most often declare their loyalty to the incumbent president. Yet it is noteworthy that they independently point to the fatigue induced by more than 20 years that Alexander Lukashenko has been the head of the Belarusian state. Some of the candidates are sympathetic towards the opposition but are in favour of gradual transformation of the Belarusian regime with a guarantee that there will be no grounds for the prosecution of the incumbent leadership of the country. Virtually all the ‘random’ candidates have insufficient human capital to collect the 100 thousand signatures required for registration. And some of them do not even have the necessary minimum number of members to register an initiative group.
Notable is the nomination of the chairman of the pro-governmental Belarusian Patriotic Party and the leader of the public association ‘Belarusian Cossacks’ Nikolay Ulakhovich. According to statements, documented in the media, made by Nikolay Ulakhovich, he is not going to compete with President Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential elections but is going to support the latter in the election campaign. So far ‘the Belarusian Cossacks’ have not made their presence felt in public politics, and the Belarusian Patriotic Party has not taken any noticeable part in either local or parliamentary elections.
In all likelihood, the nomination of Nikolay Ulakhovich is triggered by the need to increase his political clout to control the entire Cossack movement in Belarus. Most likely, after the events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities are concerned about the activisation of paramilitary Cossack units in Belarus that sympathise with the Kremlin. Moreover, the initiative group nominating Nikolay Ulakhovich comprises more than 1 thousand people, which will allow him to successfully complete the phase of collecting 100 thousand signatures and become registered as a candidate, given the support of the authorities.
The authorities have been cautious as regards the next ‘parade of candidates’ and have announced that there would be a limit to the number of participants in the presidential campaign. As stated by the chairman of the Central Election Commission Lydia Yarmoshina, several initiative groups of candidates for presidency that submitted documents stand a chance of being registered early next week: ‘We will know the number on Monday. At this stage, I envisage that only five people will be successful’.
Thus, the authorities are most likely to register candidates for presidency which represent ‘titular opposition’ who have made their presence in politics felt and whose actions are predictable. At the same time, registration of a few candidates loyal to the authorities cannot be ruled out, as this will demonstrate pluralism and potentially counteract actions of the opposition. .
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.