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. .
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.