Parties split over election observation
On August 21st, 6 opposition movements announced launch of the “Just and Fair Elections for a Better Life” campaign. Earlier, on July 24th, 5 other opposition movements signed an agreement establishing an inter-party structure “For Fair Elections” to observe the elections.
Newly shaping political opposition blocs reorganize old political coalitions which were created to monitor the elections. This process brings up the issue whether the opposition as a whole has sufficient human resources to, firstly, participate (win) in the elections and, secondly, to organize election observation.
The breakup in the “For Fair Elections” election observation campaign into at least two political blocs is the result of long-term centrifugal and unifying processes within the Belarusian opposition, started after the 2010 presidential campaign.
Today, the two political coalitions to observe elections are as follows. First, “For Fair Elections” campaign includes: the Belarusian Popular Front, “For Freedom” and “Tell the Truth” movements, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) and the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party. Second, “Just and Fair Elections for a Better Life” includes: Belarusian Party of the Left “Fair World”, the United Civil Party, the Workers’ Party Organizing Committee, the Belarusian Women’s Party “Nadzeya” Organizing Committee, and the Organizing Committee of “For Fair Elections” public human rights association, and “Belaruski Rukh” movement.
The formation of two new political blocs for election observation, on the one hand, implies failed negotiations between the party leaders. On the other hand, such outcome was predetermined by the changes in the political opposition structures – currently there are two clear coalition centres (the “Troika”, advocating for a referendum, and the Left Platform) and all other actors either have to join the already existing coalitions or act independently. The coalition cores’ expansion objectively results in reshuffles in previous ‘umbrella’ coalitions, including those doing the election observation.
“European Belarus” campaign, led by former presidential candidate Sannikov adds uncertainty to this configuration by standing aside of these coalitions.
The split in the election observation campaign in Belarus is a challenge for the opposition, since it shifts priorities from struggling for political power to observing elections and reporting violations. In addition, the increased number of structures willing to observe elections implies greater demand for activists, who will be distracted from participation in the candidates’ initiative groups (or will attempt to combine both).
Finally, international organizations, which fund election observation campaigns, are the main recipients of the information about irregularities during the elections. Previous experience demonstrates, that the information about violations during elections leaves Belarusian voters mostly indifferent and does not provoke reactions sufficient to revise the elections results or the more so, to change the existing political system.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.