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

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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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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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