New opposition coalition, ‘Talaka’, to compete with the ‘People’s Referendum’

April 22, 2016 18:38

In anticipation of the upcoming election campaigns (local elections in 2014 and presidential in 2015) democratic political forces formed a new coalition – ‘“Talaka’ Civil Alliance for fair and honest elections for a better life”.

The formation of yet another opposition coalition shows there are contradictions among the democratic forces and that they have started preparing for the 2015 presidential election. The ‘Talaka’ Civic Alliance has been created to counterbalance the ‘People’s Referendum’ coalition and to promote alternative procedures for selecting a single candidate from the opposition. However, the Alliance will have low potential for organizing a successful popular vote (primaries) if it acts alone.

Attending the new opposition coalition’s congress were delegates from 21 organizations which significantly differ in their ideology and influence among the opposition. The coalition’s backbone is formed by the United Civic Party (UCP) and ‘Fair World’, a left-wing party. Other participants included NGOs, trade unions of national and local levels, and organizing committees.

There are contradictions among the Belarusian opposition, as evidenced by the refusal of UCP and ‘Fair World’ to join the ‘People’s Referendum’ to observe the 2014 local elections. Recently the BCD organizing committee joined the election observation initiative (‘The Right of Choice’) of the ‘People’s Referendum’.

The UCP and ‘Fair World’ decided to cancel their partnership with the ‘People’s Referendum’ due to changes in methodology for coordinating election observation. Previously, the national organizing committee had played a more important role in the observation process. The committee was coordinated by Sergei Kalyakin (head of ‘Fair World’) and Viktor Kornienko (UCP member). The updated format for the party election observation within the ‘Right of Choice’ initiative suggests stronger roles for political parties, movements and candidates’ teams. Simultaneously, the role of the national coordinating body has reduced.

Talaka’ proposes to choose a single candidate in the 2015 presidential election via ‘popular vote’, i.e. primaries. Some ‘Talaka’ members have collaboration experience within the United Democratic Forces on promoting primaries. In 2009, UCP, ‘Fair World’ and the Social Democrats planned to hold primaries in Orsha region. However, their attempts failed due to a lack of human resources of the three parties and primaries never took place. Currently, ‘Talaka’ will be facing a similar problem. Most organizations which participated in the Civic Alliance congress were either local NGOs or organizations without regional networks.

Moreover, ‘Talaka’ needs resources to organize two campaigns simultaneously – election observation and primaries, which may result in a conflict of interests between coalition participants. The largest parties in the coalition also do not have common priorities. The UCP considers the ‘primaries’ project a priority, while ‘Fair World’ and ‘For Fair Elections’ want to focus on election observation.

Thus, potential conflicts have been embedded in the very core of the new opposition coalition ‘Talaka’, namely, over its priorities. ‘Talaka’ members alone will be unable to run two campaigns efficiently (primaries and election observation). Moreover, ‘Talaka’ will have to compete for resources and leadership with the ‘People’s Referendum’ coalition.

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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.