“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.
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.