Capacity of Belarusian opposition in presidential campaign halved

April 22, 2016 19:27

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.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.