Local elections: “People’s referendum” organisers consolidate leadership among opposition

April 22, 2016 18:47

Opposition parties have realistically estimated their low chances for success during the local elections campaign and have increased cooperation in preparation for the 2015 presidential campaign. Local elections have demonstrated that “People’s referendum” campaign initiators have consolidated leadership among the opposition. A candidate from the “People’s referendum” has the best chance of becoming the opposition’s single candidate, who can use the coalition’s experience in working with the electorate. 

Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, ‘Tell the truth!’ campaign leader, said that the “People’s referendum” coalition managed to collect 50 000 signatures in support of the initiative.

The authorities had a clear scenario for the local elections in 2014. They wanted to limit the opposition’s role in the election campaign, to ensure voters’ turnout and to step up confidence in the local authorities. It is worth noting that the December’13 poll by IISEPS has demonstrated critically low level of trust to local councils and executive committees – circa 28%. 

The opposition attempted to step aside from the scenario imposed by the authorities. Most opposition parties and movements considered the local campaign as a step in preparation for the presidential campaign in 2015. Two major Belarusian opposition coalitions – “People’s referendum” and “Talaka” –attempted to carry out their own scenarios during the local campaign, aiming at strengthening their negotiating positions ahead of the presidential campaign. 

The “People’s referendum” organisers have achieved the goal they had set for the local elections. They collected 50 000 signatures in support of a national plebiscite. In the following years, the coalition plans to increase the number of supporters to 400 000 - 500 000. If they succeed, they will use their success in a large-scale opposition campaign during the 2015 presidential elections. 

The “People’s referendum” initiative’s popularity has caused a nervous reaction from the authorities. For instance, CEC Chairwoman Lidia Yermoshyna has threatened campaign activists with sanctions, saying that they ‘are committing an administrative offence’. Meanwhile, by focusing on working with the electorate, rather than on how to select a ‘single candidate from the opposition’, the “People’s referendum” coalition managed to consolidate its efforts and relieve tensions among its members.

Meanwhile, the “Talaka” opposition coalition failed to achieve its goal, i.e. to hold primaries in Bobruisk on the elections day, March 23rd. One of its leaders, Leu Margolin, said they had to abandon the idea because of the “very intense pressure on local activists by the KGB”. In the past, all the UCP party’s attempts to carry out primaries were unsuccessful.

It is worth noting that the opposition lacks the human resources to carry out several large-scale national or regional campaigns simultaneously. For instance, both opposition coalitions have been organizing observations during the local elections, but refused to join their efforts.

The local elections have once again underlined the existing contradictions between the opposition leaders, which imply that there might be several opposition candidates for the presidential elections in 2015. However, the candidate backed by the “People’s Referendum” coalition at this point seems most  likely to have the greatest potential.

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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.