“Sannikau factor” reduces probability of election boycott
The news about potential pardon of Sannikau strengthens positions of the opponents of the boycott of the parliamentary elections and gives the opposition involved in negations a reason to postpone the adoption of a unanimous decision about the format of the election campaign. De facto it implies there will be no joint boycott of the 2012 elections.
Taking into account President’s Lukashenko readiness to pardon prisoners if they appeal for clemency, which he repeatedly voiced, increases chances of Sannikau’s release. On 23 January expired the one-month-review period and the appeal was submitted to the Presidential Administration. Indeed, Lukashenko knew about Sannikau’s appeal all along and his demonstrative adherence to formalities while considering his appeal implies only his personal dislike of Sannikau. It also explains the delayed review of the petition within the Administration, moreover, last week President Lukashenko was on a working visit and a vacation in Sochi.
The release of Sannikau will have a dual impact on the negotiations about the format of the opposition’s participation in the parliamentary elections in September.
On the one hand, supporters of explicit boycott of the election campaign may use the release of Sannikau as a factor reinforcing their position, namely, that the authorities are fearful of the boycott and therefore have already made concessions ergo they will continue insisting on boycotting. On the other hand, supporters of participation in the elections will argue that following the release of Sannikau other political prisoners could be released before the autumn.
However, it implies that negotiations within the opposition will continue. In fact, the opposition will refuse to take a principled decision regarding “the boycott or participation” and in reality the choice will be made in favourof participation and against the boycott. On 23 January a number of opposition organizations failed to sign an agreement on the format of the election campaign, regardless of their previous statements about working on such document.
The delay of the principled and joint decision on the format of participation in the parliamentary campaign by the opposition confirms our previous assessment: the majority of the opposition will take part in the elections and will hush up the issue of explicit boycott. The meeting of the so-called “Coalition of the Six” on 23 January was not attended by four heads of the political parties and movements (2 were on business trips abroad, 2 were ill.)
The release of Sannikau, if it takes place, will provide the leadership of the opposition with yet another reason to postpone the adoption of the final decision. For instance, one of the negotiators (Deputy Chairman of the United Civil Party Mr. Lev Margolin) said on January 23 that in the following two months the coalition intended to organize a broad public debate with participation of experts regarding the format of the opposition’s involvement in the elections. He also said that the boycott would not in principle prevent the opposition from the nomination of candidates.
To date, the following (not-registered) organizations have explicitly supported the idea of the boycott: the Organizing Committee of the People’s Assembly, the “Belaruski Rukh” Movement and the Belarusian Christian Democracy. Only one party, Fair World of the “Coalition of the Six” stands for participation in the elections. The remaining organizations have not yet made up their minds and continue consultations.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.