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