Pre-election opposition: variety of tactics and some traces of strategy
Country’s leadership sets narrow frameworks for formal and informal actions for the election campaign participants. During the campaign, pro-government and opposition candidates will face tough opposition from the authorities and, in the best case scenario, they will use the campaign to demonstrate their mobilization capacity and ability to create new coalitions.
The key player in the campaign could become a Republican public association (QuaNGO) “Belaya Rus”, which lists about 130 thousand members. Its leadership does not leave attempts to convert the QuaNGO into a political party, and to strengthen its positions, therefore it is important for “Belaya Rus” to show to the country’s leadership its mobilization capacity “in action”: Parliamentary elections provide with such an opportunity. However, it is not likely that Belaya Rus will be converted into a political party, as the emergence of a mass-scale and organized political organization in the country contradicts interests of President Lukashenko.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties and movements are busy reorganizing old and new coalitions, as well as launching initiatives linked with the upcoming campaign. On June 16th, two civil campaigns “Tell the Truth!” and “For Freedom” signed a cooperation agreement within the framework of the National Platform for Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership. Both movements are planning to nominate candidates for the upcoming elections and to observe the voting procedures. In addition, these two organizations have set up an organizing committee to promote Kastus Kalinowski.
A number of opposition parties and movements have announced plans to carry out election monitoring: “For Fair Elections” campaign, which is coordinated by “Fair World” political party and “Public control - for Fair Elections!” campaign (Coordinators - the Belarusian Popular Front Party, the “Green” party and “For Freedom” movement). Finally, on June 21st Belarusian human rights activists launched their election monitoring campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, envisaging to engage over 500 observers.
On the one hand, such an abundance of initiatives related to election observation, coupled with a variety of election participation strategies (boycott, active boycott, conditioned participation, unconditional participation), indicates that internal crisis within the opposition is increasing. On the other hand, this process triggers formations of new opposition movements and coalitions, which set long-term political goals and do not link their activities with the electoral cycle (in particular, “For Freedom” and “Tell the Truth!” movements).
The parliamentary campaign will enable all of these pro-government and opposition players to show their mobilization capabilities. However, one should not expect changes in the political situation before and after the elections.
The established formal and informal frameworks of political activity will be tough for all participants in the election campaign.
For instance, it is likely that the authorities will pay particular attention to the street campaigning by the opposition and the more so bearing in mind the recent legislative changes concerning street rallies. It is also likely that attempts of “Belaya Rus” to transform into a political party will be systematically and informally suppressed by the bureaucratic machine.
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.