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’.
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.