Pre-election opposition: variety of tactics and some traces of strategy

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April 22, 2016 18:12

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.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.