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.
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.