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