Opposition pre-election activity is affecting political climate in Belarus
Future oppositional parliamentary candidates successfully use creative approaches while campaigning to consolidate basic protest electorate. Relaxed pressure and milder rhetoric of the authorities with regard to the opposition have somewhat transformed political atmosphere in the society. The Belarusian authorities are likely to somewhat step up the pressure on opposition in order to cool down the response in society to oppositional candidates.
Despite the distrust in electoral procedures, opposition supporters seem to be eager to participate in the campaigning events. For instance, substantially more people have participated in the permitted picket organised by Logvintets from the For Freedom movement to commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of Sovereignty, than usually participate in protest actions. For comparison, only twenty people responded to the call to celebrate the anniversary in an unauthorized action on the Independence Square.
Overall, according to signature collectors and picketing activists, Belarusians willingly respond to political communication, which, in turn, encourages potential candidates and signature collectors to use creative approaches. For instance, they organise collaborative pickets (together with the centre-right coalition, nominees and leaders of associations), mini-events, and activities to protect the interests of voters. Over a month, the process of collecting signatures has mobilised both, activists and electorate, and prompted society to overcome the political frustration.
Meanwhile, the authorities are beginning to feel nervous due to the non-conventional approaches used by the opposition. For instance, the special services have attempted to disrupt the concert by Liavon Volsky at a campaign picket, without engaging in a conflict with the organisers and the participants publicly or directly. In addition, Central Election Commission Head Yarmoshyna expressed dissatisfaction with the use of amplification equipment, megaphones and musicians at pickets organised by Ales Lahviniec and Andrei Dmitriev.
Apparently, after the elections, the authorities may introduce a more detailed regulation for the collecting signatures stage and restrict the use of sound amplifiers and other equipment, which could up-scale the opportunities for the opposition. If election campaigning transforms into protest actions, and the opposition toughens its rhetoric and calls for a ‘Maidan’ to which society responds, the Belarusian authorities are likely to impose a harsh clampdown.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.