“People’s Referendum” takes lead in nominating "single candidate" from opposition

April 22, 2016 19:02

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.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.