Opposition in between elections
Opposition starts preparing for the 2015 Presidential elections. At the same time, it remains internally divided: one part remains active within the electoral cycle, and the other is trying to act beyond its scope and to expand its activities on social and civic spheres.
After the September Parliamentary elections, the Belarusian opposition parties and movements made a number of statements about their future activities.
In October the following opposition forces expressed their willingness to participate in the Presidential campaign: Belarusian Popular Front (likely candidates are Mr. Yanukevich and Mr. Kostusev), “For Freedom” movement (Mr. Milinkevich), “Tell the Truth!” civil campaign (Mr. Nyaklyaeu), the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) (potential candidate has not been named yet). The United Civil Party also expressed willingness to participate in the Presidential election.
Potentially, the EU has pushed the oppositional forces towards making these statements: in October a series of events took place with the participation of Belarusian opposition and European politicians (in Brussels, Prague, Berlin and Warsaw). It implies that the EU can successfully stimulate the Belarusian opposition, at least, to making policy statements. In turn, the opposition regards such EU’s interest as an “auction offer”.
The most controversial issue, about which there is no consensus among the opposition, is the participation format in the next presidential elections, namely, the ‘single candidate’s’ fate. In particular, different political forces have already offered several options concerning the nomination procedure for a single candidate: “primaries” (by the UCP), All-Belarusian Congress or Democratic Forces Congress (by “Tell the Truth!” movement).
However, after the Parliamentary elections, the existing situation inside the opposition reduces the likelihood of success of the “single candidate” scenario. The recent election campaign has divided the opposition into so-called ‘radical’ and ‘constructive’ opposition (depending on adherence to ‘boycott’ or participation tactics). And such split continues increasing mutual suspicions and accusations of “collaboration with the secret services” of different states.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that all mentioned above statements regarding opposition’s participation in the 2015 Presidential elections were made separately by each opposition movement, and not as by potential ‘coalitions’. Moreover, one of the proposed procedures for a single candidate – ‘primaries’ – had already been discussed before the 2010 elections by thirteen political and civil actors and they were not able to come to a final decision. Finally, the UCP party had actually accused the “For Freedom” movement of disrupting this process.
As for the most radical opposition wing ‘in exile’, it still has no political perspectives. There was the possibility that leadership in this group would be assumed by ex-presidential candidate A. Sannikov. However in his recent statement Mr. Sannikov did not indicate any political ambitions and linked his exile with the desire to save the remaining political prisoners.
Thus, we would anticipate that the following trends in the Belarusian opposition will remain up until the 2015 election campaign:
1. Party opposition will continue acting within the electoral cycle, and will focus on developing strategies and tactics to participate in the presidential campaign, as well as on discussing the single candidate nomination procedures.
2. Non-party opposition, “For Freedom” and “Tell the Truth!” movements in particular, will focus on the implementation of social, civic, cultural and educational projects, simultaneously participating in the party opposition activities.
3. The conditional split on the “radical” and “constructive” opposition will remain as the aftermath of the parliamentary elections tactics (boycott vs participation).
4. It is likely that the “radical” opposition will reduce its political activity, primarily because of the natural pause between elections, when there are fewer reasons for organizing political events. The experience of the 2011 financial crisis showed, that the opposition was not willing to become involved in social protests at workplaces.
5. ‘Non-conventional’ opposition, i.e. the Liberal Democratic Party, should also be mentioned, since it actively and practically alone tries to strengthen its party ties in the Russian State Duma, that is, in the Belarusian foreign policy’s key area. The party also expressed its willingness to participate in the 2015 election.
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.