Opposition pre-election activity is affecting political climate in Belarus

August 17, 2016 10:44
Image: "Naša Niva"

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. 

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.