Candidate Lukashenka avoids personal involvement in campaigning
The incumbent president is avoiding engagement in the presidential race, which is likely to be due to the lack of coherent bailout strategy for downturning Belarusian model. Despite the growing number of participants in unauthorised activities of the ‘coalition for non-recognition’ lead by former political prisoner Nikolai Statkevich, Minsk officials are demonstrating commitment to the mild liberalisation in order to create a positive impression on international election observers. The authorities are unlikely to use the repressive machine, if the opposition continues to implement two contradictory tactics, which confuse the population – boycott / defiance of the elections by the ‘coalition for non-recognition’ and appeals to support the only opposition candidate, Tatsiana Karatkevich.
Presidential candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich appealed to the Central Electoral Commission to give her the airtime, which had not been used by candidate Lukashenka.
Presidential candidate Lukashenka has waived his right for the second appearance on the state television with his election programme and proposed to give his airtime to other candidates. In addition, he responded to criticism regarding the evasion of direct participation in the election campaign with explanations that he was busy on the international political arena. President Lukashenka is attempting to re-focus the electorate from domestic issues onto international problems by emphasizing the growing problems with refugees in Europe and the armed conflict in Ukraine.
Amid economic recession and falling living standards, the authorities have not elaborated a coherent bailout strategy to tackle the unfolding crisis. President Lukashenka actually admitted that he had no new ideas and that he would not reform the existing socio-economic model: “Anyone who follows my policies, knows my approaches: education and healthcare should be funded from the state budget. We shall take care of children and elderly like for the apple of the eye. You know that. And if I tell you about it, you know that is how it will be. Because this is the policy I have been carrying out for twenty years”.
Simultaneously, the Belarusian authorities are increasingly relying on power agencies and administrative resource to ensure the desired voting results, which explains the absence of a broad campaign for the incumbent president. The list of presidential proxies is composed mainly of representatives of the state apparatus, and not prominent sportsmen and artists as it was during the previous presidential campaign. For instance, Minister of Labour and Social Protection Marianna Shchetkina, who replaced Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions Chairman Mikhail Orda, heads Lukashenka’s headquarters.
As anticipated, the government is refraining from tough actions against the opposition from the ‘coalition for non-recognition’, who are attracting new supporters to their unsanctioned activities. For instance, former presidential candidate and former political prisoner Nikolai Statkevich has held another unauthorized rally in Minsk dedicated to the 21st anniversary of the presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. It is noteworthy that the participants’ number is increasing with every new action due to the mild reaction of the law enforcement agencies. There were no crackdowns and detentions, only fines on the organisers of the rallies. Such liberalisation is due to the authorities’ desire to create a favourable background in the presidential campaign for international observers.
The ‘coalition for non-recognition’ is attempting to expand the scope of its activities, which are dissonant with the basic theses of the incumbent presidents’ election programme relating to public safety and Belarus’ independence. For instance, ex-presidential candidate Nyaklyaeu has announced, that a new rally will be held on the Freedom Square – against the deployment of Russian military bases.
Alternative candidates have limited funds, which makes their election campaign virtually invisible for most citizens. Meanwhile, the state-run media has enhanced coverage of election campaigns by alternative candidates, including Tatsiana Karatkevich. Moreover, state print media has allowed neutral and positive evaluation of the single opposition candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich in order to boost voters’ interest in the elections.
Last week, the authorities voiced tentative turnout figures. According to a joint poll by the Information and Analytical Centre of the Presidential Administration and the Institute of Sociology of the National Science Academy, 86.2% of the Belarusian population plan to take part in the upcoming presidential elections, which corresponds to the turnout at the presidential elections in 2010.
Overall, the authorities will attempt to avoid tough measures against the opposition in order to ensure reasonable evaluation by international observers and to demonstrate "progress" in the election campaign so that the West suspended sanctions against the Belarusian leadership.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.