Opposition’s lack of agreement on how to elect single candidate may result in repeat of 2010 campaign
Amid the lack of progress in negotiations between opposition leaders over how a single candidate should be elected the number of those willing to run for president is rising. In view of the events in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, very few opposition leaders support the idea of changing power in Belarus through mass protests. Yet the opposition has not provided an alternative scenario of transforming the Belarusian regime which could unite opposition-minded citizens. Today, a re-run of the 2010 election campaign, with a gaggle of opposition candidates, seems a strong likelihood.
Former presidential candidate Mikola Statkevich has proposed that the single candidate in the 2015 presidential election should be a present or former political prisoner.
As the presidential elections draw closer, the list of would-be presidents grows. Several have already announced their ambitions: Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, leader of the Tell the Truth! Campaign (he also has the highest ratings), Sergei Gaidukevich, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (loyal to the authorities), Anatoli Lyabedzka, Chairman of the United Civic Party, and General Frolov, Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada).
Those who do not rule out their participation in the race include: Aleksandr Milinkevich, leader of the For Freedom Movement or his Deputy Ales Lahvinets, Olga Karatch, leader of the Nash Dom civil campaign, and Elena Anisim, vice-president of the Belarusian Language Society. Anisim’s candidacy has already been supported by the Rada of Belarusian Intelligentsia.
Meanwhile, the opposition leaders are unable to agree on the procedures for electing a single candidate, due to take place during a congress for pro-democratic parties and movements (a date has not yet been set). Methods under discussion are: collecting signatures, holding primaries, or nominating based on the number of local branches. The opposition leaders have so far been unable to reach agreement on how to identify a single candidate, as certain procedures favour some candidates, while other candidates would benefit from other procedures.
In addition, the opposition politicians are afraid that Western capitals might change their approach towards the Belarusian authorities. They believe that President Lukashenko’s recognition at the international level will induce a harsher environment for the opposition, a loss of their influence among the West, and, eventually, their exclusion from political processes.
In order to prevent such a scenario, former presidential candidate in the 2010 elections Mikola Statkevich proposes that a person who has a “political conviction” or “who is in prison on politically motivated charges” should be the opposition’s single candidate. Mikola Statkevich is one of President Alexander Lukashenko’s harshest critics in Belarus, and a supporter of bringing about regime change through mass protests. He is the only 2010 presidential candidate who is still serving a prison sentence (of six years) for organising mass riots after the presidential elections in 2010. Despite some organisations welcoming Statkevich’s initiative, for example, Tell the Truth! Movement, others, such as For Freedom Movement have rebuked it.
The opposition parties do not expect a radical change in the situation after the presidential election in 2015, namely, a change of political power in Belarus. In addition, each party will pursue its own goals in the upcoming campaign which prevents them from working together on a common strategy and election scenario in 2015. For example, the UCP’s priority is to raise the profile of free elections in Belarus. For Freedom Movement aims to unite its supporters around the idea of European choice and to strengthen pro-European sentiment in society – while former communists from the Fair World party would rather seek integration with Russia.
Meanwhile, the lack of progress in negotiations between the opposition leaders about how to elect a single candidate might result in more presidential hopefuls coming forward.
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.