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

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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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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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