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.
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.