The opposition has no resources to protect the elections’ fairness and transparency
The opposition managed to provide evidence that official data on voter turnout at the polls was questionable. However, the authorities will ignore these appeals, because oppositional political and social forces have no effective tools to protect their interests. Meanwhile, the short-term mobilization effect from the campaign curtailed.
Following elections on September 23rd, a number of human rights and public opposition groups presented their results of the parliamentary elections monitoring and appealed to the authorities with a demand to annul the election results in some constituencies.
Evidence of the artificially increased voter turnout at some polls provided by the opposition is quite convincing. In particular, several opposition parties and movements have managed to organize monitoring at all polls in the Frunzenski district of Minsk № 101 during the early and primary voting and recorded 35.69% turnout against official 58.8%. As a result, they have filed a request to the Central Election Commission to annul and void the election results in this constituency.
Generally, the official data on the voter turnout in the country significantly differed from the results of independent monitoring. For instance, Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign had 295 observers at 150 polling stations all over Belarus and came to the conclusion that the real turnout was at odds with the official data (74.6%) on average by 18.8% and therefore was within the 50% threshold needed to recognize the elections. However, in a number of urban constituencies the turnout was less than 50%, first of all in Minsk, where the official turnout was 59.2%.
Despite these differences, it is extremely difficult to say accurately what was the real voter turnout and to challenge the probable fraud or even the more so, to hold another elections. First, the opposition does not have the necessary human resources, and - most importantly – it is not opposition’s goal. On September 25th, 7 opposition groups - the United Civic Party, the youth organization “Young Front”, organizing committee of the “Belarusian Christian Democracy” (BCD) party, “Belarusian ruh”, Independent Trade Union in electronic industry, Rada of the Belarusian intelligentsia and “European Belarus” civil campaign – initiated an information campaign about violations during the elections. It means they have accepted the official elections results.
Second, after the election campaign opposition’s information resources returned back to meager state, mostly limited to Internet, as well as foreign, primarily Western media. In these circumstances the mobilization effect from the election campaign, which was extremely inert anyway, disappeared very quickly. Third, as we have already noted, the opposition did not set a goal to win seats in the Parliament and treated this campaign either as an information platform to communicate with the population or as a preparation for the 2015 Presidential campaign.
Finally, we have to face the truth, that today the opposition’s ability to counteract the authorities is very small. This applies not only to the ‘conventional’ opposition, but also for example, to the Liberal Democratic Party, which had 71 candidates registered however haven’t won any seats, even in the non-alternative Gomel-Navabelitski district.
Official statistics says, in the Gomel-Navabelitski district the only candidate Mel’nikov (from LDPB Party) failed to gather the required number of votes. Second round of elections will be held there in 2014. Meanwhile, official data says, the turnout in this district was 50%. It was an obvious insult to the LDPB party and they have not made any visible attempts to challenge this situation in court. This means that Belarusian political actors find themselves in very rigid frameworks and lack tools/resources to counter the authorities.
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.