“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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.