Election campaign unfolding in the usual way
No significant deviations in the course of the preliminary stage of the campaign have been observed. All campaign participants use it to achieve their own objectives and, therefore, interested in preserving the traditional format.
On July 19th was the deadline for submitting application for parliamentary candidates’ initiative groups’ registration. A total of 439 applications have been submitted.
Compared with the 2008 Parliamentary campaign, there were no deviations in the flow of this election campaign stage. In 2008 455 applications were filed, in 2012 – 439. The decision about the groups’ registration will be made by the Central Election Commission next week, then until August 13th, the registered groups will be collecting signatures for their nominees.
Belarusian authorities have demonstrated moderate willingness to cooperate with international observers. On July 16th-18th, the OSCE/ODIHR needs assessment mission worked in Belarus, holding several meetings in the Belarusian Central Election Commission and the Parliament. It should be noted that previously the government had a more radical attitude and expressed doubts about the need to invite the OSCE observers. In turn, On July 20th, the OSCE announced that it will send a full-fledged observation mission to Belarus.
The opposition is acting within the previously marked trend: various opposition groups are using the campaign to address local political problems, in particular to strengthen their own positions and to create new coalitions.
For instance, last week a correspondent solidarity action between a moderate and constructive opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, (“For Freedom” movement) and imprisoned Mikola Statkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Gromada) took place. Mr. Milinkevich, who plans to run for MP in Minsk, became a member of the initiative group for nominating Statkevich.
Since the probability of Mr. Statkevich’s release and rehabilitation before the elections is very low, this action has a symbolic and reputational nature, and confirms the general rule that the opposition regards elections as an additional platform to address their most pressing problems, i.e. reformatting the old coalitions and redistributing staff (there are 114 members in the Statkevich’s initiative group, which is a valuable resource in case of registration failure).
Finally, it should be noted that the level of activity by boycott supporters has decreased: the most radically-minded opposition restricts to awareness-raising campaign on independent websites. This is due to the dilution of the overall boycott strategy (there have been three elections boycott options proposed by various opposition groups: unconditional, conditional and active), and the lack of an authoritative leader in the boycott campaign. It was anticipated that ex-presidential candidate Mr. Sannikov could become such a leader. However, after his release from prison in April, he opted out of public politics.
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.