Capacity of Belarusian opposition in presidential campaign halved
Compared with 2010 elections, capacity of the opposition in the 2015 presidential campaign has almost three-folded. Amid overall political apathy and predictable elections results, political activists’ outflow is due to the refusal of most political leaders to participate in the presidential race, emigration of some bright opposition leaders and activists, and disagreements over a single strategy for the opposition in the campaign. Meanwhile, the authorities encourage more engaged, although formal, participation in the presidential campaign among loyal public organizations and political parties.
At a meeting with members of the PACE preliminary observation mission opposition leaders have drawn a dark picture of the ongoing election campaign.
Conventional Belarusian opposition parties and movements are losing their appeal and popularity among the opposition-minded electorate. In 2015, the number of opposition activists willing to engage in the ongoing presidential campaign reduced dramatically: to circa 4400 activists in the initiative groups of three opposition candidates in 2015, which is a threefold reduction compared with the 2010 campaign with eight candidates and 12,600 activists. That said, both, in 20110 and in 2015, some activists engaged in initiative groups of several opposition leaders.
Opposition electorate in 2015 elections is not mobilising, since some opposition leaders appeal to ignore the ongoing presidential campaign, while others (mainly emigrants) call for a boycott of the elections. Conflicting opposition strategies are likely to mislead the electorate and further reduce political activity. For instance, most opposition groups said the main task of the presidential campaign was to disrupt the recognition of the elections by international observers. To accomplish this task, the opposition intended to organise a large-scale observation in order to record violations by the authorities. However, in 2015 the number of opposition candidates nominated in the precinct election commissions reduced by 2-3 times in comparison with 2010. For example, the United Civil Party has delegated only 172 activist (507 in 2010) in the district election commissions, the Belarusian Popular Front - 96 (208 in 2010), and the ‘Fair World’ - 147 (281 in 2010). In other words, only 415 political activists were nominated for observation in 2015 – against 996 in 2010.
The Belarusian authorities also de-motivate opposition activists. Independent observers reported that during the past five years the authorities were reducing representation of the opposition in the electoral commissions at all levels.
Meanwhile, according to the Belarusian legislation, representatives of political parties and public associations should comprise at least one third of electoral commission. The authorities ensure they do not violate the law by nominating representatives of quangos, such as „Belaya Rus”, Belarusian Public Association of Veterans, Belarusian Women’s Union, Youth Union, and others, as electoral commission members.
In addition, in 2015, loyal political parties have significantly increased their nominees to precinct election commissions, thus improving the statistics of party representation in commissions. It is worth noting that most pro-governmental parties do not participate in political campaigns and do not nominate their candidates to local and parliamentary elections. Their main role is to represent political parties in election commissions at all levels en lieu of the opposition. For instance, 2278 of 2906 activists, which were nominated from pro-governmental parties, have become members of precinct electoral commissions.
Mobilisation potential of the opposition political parties is likely to reduce further due to the lack of a single strategy, or if they decide to ignore/boycott the next elections.
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.