Independent verification of signatures in support of Tatsiana Karatkevich will not eliminate contradictions in opposition
Regardless of the outcomes, verification of authenticity of signatures for Karatkevich’s nomination by independent experts would not resolve the growing contradictions among the opposition. Opposition parties, which have not supported Karatkevich’s nomination for the presidency, are attempting to portray her as Lukashenka’s sparring partner. If Karatkevich is registered as a candidate, she may receive significant support among protest electorate as the only opposition representative on the ballot.
A public group has been created in order to verify signatures collected in support of Tatsiana Karatkevich nomination as a presidential candidate. The electoral law does not regulate this kind of public control over signatures verification. In addition, experts doubt that the verification process could be organised by the opposition, which has failed to develop a common approach to the verification. In addition, some forms of verification are unethical and may even entail criminal prosecution, such as, for example, telephone calls to voters.
CEC Chairman Yermoshina said that the opposition initiative to verify the authenticity of signatures of the potential presidential candidate Tatyana Karatkevich was illegal and warned about criminal prosecution: “This is an absolute nonsense, and a violation of the law. If needed, we may refer to the prosecutor to see if any powers were exceeded. People encroach on what is stated in the Constitution – that the elections in our country are carried out by the electoral commissions. And they imply there are organisations, which have the right to replace the electoral commission. Therefore, they should not joke like that!”
On the one hand, Yarmoshyna keeps the strategy of the Belarusian authorities, who are trying to strengthen the contradictions and fragmentation of the opposition parties. The CEC head has made some quite provocative statements in support of the potential candidate from the “People’s referendum”, which have led to attacks on Tatsiana Karatkevich by other opposition parties and distracted her from working with the population. In addition, yet another conflict in the opposition has turned away many activists and reduced support for the opposition, even among democratic-minded voters.
Simultaneously, the opposition is losing its influence on western policy makers when elaborating behavioural strategies regarding the authorities, since western policy makers are less willing to listen to conflicting views of disparate and warring opposition groups.
On their side, the authorities do not want to call into question the work of election officials who are engaged in validating the collected signatures. If the public commission declares distrust of signatures verification results by territorial commissions, ‘non-recognition’ supporters will have additional arguments to defend their position vis-a-vis western observers.
Opposition parties, which have united against Tatsiana Karatkevich are attempting to portray the potential candidate from the ‘People’s Referendum’ campaign as Lukashenka’s sparring partner along with other contenders (Tereshchenko, Ulakhovich and Gaydukevich). The only opposition candidate in the 2015 presidential elections might be able to accumulate potential protest votes. Other opposition leaders are afraid of losing their positions and influence on the agenda of the talks with Western partners. Indeed, if she holds a successful campaign and receives relatively high support from voters, Tatsiana Karatkevich may become ‘the first among equal’ in the opposition.
Overall, in the eyes of the population, the results of the signatures verification by independent experts will have no impact on the level of trust or mistrust to the potential candidate from the ‘People’s Referendum’.
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.