“People’s Referendum”: campaign enters mobilization phase
Members of the “People’s Referendum” coalition have selected and structured questions for a popular referendum, and launched a second round of field trips to the Belarusian regions to meet with people. They plan to make 15 field trips to communities where the opposition has not worked before.
The “People’s Referendum” coalition selected a good range of questions to start mobilization and to unite supporters of changes. New organizations would like to join the coalition. However, coalition members will have to narrow down the list of questions to run a successful campaign in accordance with available resources and taking into account interests of all members.
The “People’s Referendum” coalition has formulated a preliminary list of issues for the campaign and in the near future will finalize the topics to be put up for a plebiscite. If the initiative develops and the referendum takes place, some factors will hinder its success.
Firstly, Electoral Commissions are fully controlled by the Presidential Administration. Changes in the electoral practices are not anticipated. Secondly, the opposition has a limited access to the media. Thirdly, Belarusian society is split over philosophical questions. On some issues, democratic forces’ positions are weaker than the current governments’.
It is unlikely that the government will allow the opposition to hold a full-scale republican referendum. However, the coalition can use the campaign for the mobilization purpose. Ahead of the local elections, the issue of local self-governance seems ‘topical’. However, independent polls say that most people do not believe it is important to empower local councils. Therefore, this issue may only be used in an awareness raising campaign.
The following issues have a greater potential to unite various opposition groups and the wider community: development of relations with the European Union, foreign military bases in Belarus, and the limitation of presidential terms for one person. Most populist slogans, such as free healthcare and education, professional army and government’s accountability are rather blurred for most citizens. Meanwhile, the government does its best to balance out the citizens’ discontent and ‘shrinking’ social benefits.
In September 2013 the Freedom and Progress Party joined the coalition. This party plans to spread the following message during the local elections: “Mayor should be elected by the People”.
The release of Paval Seviarynets, one of the BCD leaders, might give a new impetus to the opposition politics. He is a popular political figure and his authority spreads beyond the BCD party. Many see him as a single candidate in the presidential election. However, during the recent press conference, he denied his presidential ambitions and talked about the need for a unified opposition strategy. This increases the chances for a common opposition strategy during the 2015 presidential campaign.
The “People’s Referendum” coalition enhances its capacity. Once the coalition has defined the issues for the plebiscite, other opposition groups might join the campaign.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.