IISEPS polls: demand for changes has grown, Karatkevich attracted new voters
On December 29th, 2015, IISEPS published results of the quarterly poll. According to the poll, the turnout at the 2015 presidential elections was 70.2% and 4% boycotted the elections, Lukashenka won 50.8% of votes, Karatkevich 22.3%, and there were twice as many supporters of market reforms in Belarus as conservatives (57% vs 27.8%). The poll results imply that there were more opportunities to attract new voters, and that Karatkevich has a chance to retain the sympathy of supporters of changes among the electorate until the next election.
Vilnius-based since 2011, Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies is virtually the only independent research organization conducting regular, once a quarter, based on the same methodology opinion polls in Belarus. IISEPS polls are systematic surveys of opinions on a set number of issues, while other research institutions conducting polls in Belarus usually focus on a specific problem. For those who closely follow the IISEPS polls, this data was fully predictable, including the unpopularity of the boycott / disregard strategy during the presidential elections. According to IISEPS, 4% of the voters have boycotted the elections; meanwhile, since January 2015 the number of voters who replied ‘of course no/rather no’ to a question whether they were going to vote in the upcoming elections had also increased by 4%, while those who said ‘I do not know’ or ‘difficult to say’ had decreased by same 4%. In other words, the efficiency of the information campaign for a boycott has proved to be extremely low.
According to IISEPS, in October 2015, 35.6% voted for Lukashenka, 15.7% for Karatkevich, 5.2% for Haidukevich, 1.9% for Ulakhovih and 8.9% against all. Interestingly, the voting results for Haidukevich differed from the voting results for him in all previous elections – this was the first time his result was so high. The same applies to the "against all" result – this was the first election since 1994 that it exceeded 10%. Having conducted an additional research, IISEPS has concluded that Karatkevich managed to mobilise the ‘medial’ electorate, which differs from the firm supporters of Lukashenka and from conventional opposition voters.
IISEPS noted that in comparison with the crisis of 2011, there were fewer supporters of changes – if in 2011, 70% of respondents believed that the change was more important than preserving the status quo, in December 2015 – only 55.4%. However, in June 2014, they made 52.1% and in September 2015 - 52.7%. That is, supporters of changes are growing in number, only slowly, but already make over a half of voters. Less than a third of voters hope for changes and their number has decreased over the last year by 7%. 12.8% of voters said they would vote because they wanted a change. The majority of voters believe that they cope with their duties vis-a-vis the state much better than the state with its duties to them.
Overall, the democratic forces have a significant potential for gaining more supporters if they carry out effective campaigns on issues of concern to voters.
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.