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 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.