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.
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.