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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.