“People’s Referendum” takes lead in nominating "single candidate" from opposition
The "People’s Referendum" campaigners are becoming the pivot point for determining the democratic forces’ strategy for the 2015 presidential campaign. Most likely, candidates will be nominated by opposition party blocks or individual political parties. However, if there are several candidates from the opposition, the candidate who is supported by the ‘People’s Referendum’ campaigners will be the main leader in the 2015 presidential race.
Five opposition parties and organizations signed an agreement on the nomination procedure for a single candidate from the opposition in the 2015 presidential elections. They are: "Tell the Truth!" campaign, "For Freedom" movement, the BPF party, BCD and Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada). The Congress of Democratic Forces is scheduled for March 28th, 2015, but the organizers consider May 2015 as the most probable timing for the event.
During the past six months, the opposition leaders have been unable to reach an agreement on the procedures for nominating members to the Congress of Democratic Forces, at which a "single opposition candidate" for the 2015 presidential election should be elected. The democratic forces have considered various options for electing members to the Congress: by holding primaries in the regions, through collecting signatures, at activists’ meetings, as well as by quotas for structures and VIPs. How Congress members are elected is important, as this could strengthen/weaken the position of one or another political party – which is why the opposition politicians have struggled to agree,.
This recent agreement only addresses the split in the opposition over the single opposition candidate nomination. On the one hand, the “People’s referendum" supporters (including "Tell the Truth!", the Social Democratic Party (Hramada), “For Freedom" movement and the BPF) and on the other – the United Civic Party and former communists "Fair World", with the Belarusian Christian Democracy in the middle. The BDC acts as a moderator in the negotiations, but inclines towards the “People’s Referendum” block.
The “People’s Referendum” block has named some possible contenders for the ‘single opposition candidate’ status, underscoring that the final decision would depend on how things develop. The candidate nominated by the ‘People’s Referendum’ campaign supporters will have the greatest chance of becoming the democratic opposition leader..
The ‘People’s Referendum’s main rival is the UCP – in May 2014 the UCP nominated its chairman, Anatol Lyabedzka, to contend for the single opposition candidate status. The UCP is also promoting the idea of holding primaries in the regions in order to determine the ‘single candidate’. During the local elections in 2014, the UCP attempted to hold primaries in Bobruisk, however their efforts were futile, as they said, due to pressure from the security services. The UCP also intended to hold primaries in Orsha in 2010, but failed to organise them.
In October 2014, the "People’s referendum" campaign initiators passed 50,000 signatures to Parliament. Signatories support a nationwide referendum on six issues,(identified by the initiators) to be held. If the UCP and ‘Fair World’ decide to quit negotiations over the single candidate nomination, the remaining five opposition structures will manage to carry out a full-fledged campaign independently, thanks to ongoing work with the population.
Most likely, various political structures will be prompted to seek a compromise with the signatories to the nomination agreement for a "single oppositional candidate". The candidate supported by the "People’s referendum" campaign initiators will be the key figure in determining the opposition’s strategy for the 2015 presidential campaign, even if there are several candidates from the opposition.
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.