The split within the opposition to secure legitimacy of the Parliamentary elections
The Belarusian opposition will not boycott the 2012 Parliamentary election campaign. The majority of the opposition movements will take part in it in one way or another, with the redistribution of political capital within the opposition as a major stake.
On 31 January six opposition parties and movements failed to reach a principled agreement on the participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Instead, four political movements signed a ‘Declaration for a public discussion’ about opposition’s participation in the elections.
On 31 January the Belarusian opposition “coalition of the six” split into three main groups around the issue of participation/boycott of the elections.
Firstly, supporters of the boycott of the elections include non-registered parties and organizations: the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD), the Organizing Committee of the People’s Assembly and the “Belaruski ruh” Movement. A demarche of Co-chairman of the BCD Vital Rymasheuski on January 31 wrecked the signing of a joint declaration.
Secondly, the registered parties and movements that signed the ‘Declaration for a Public Discussion’: the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada), “For Freedom” and “Tell the truth!” movements. The Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada) joined the “coalition of the six” on the eve of signing of the Declaration. The ex-Communist Party “Fair World” is planning to join the Declaration at a later stage.
The Declaration calls for organization of a national debate about the format of the participation of the opposition in the parliamentary elections. It is an appeal to the “population”, which implies the signatories’ desire to share responsibility for the decision and, de facto, means a soft rejection of the idea of a boycott. The document was not signed by the leaders of these organizations, but by their deputies and coordinators, except for the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada).
The Declaration does not preclude political parties from the nomination of candidates for the elections, however provides for withdrawal of candidates, if the authorities fail to meet the set preconditions (the release of all political prisoners). Nevertheless, the Declaration allows its signatories to join the campaign, thereby filling it with a political content.
The United Civic Party dropped out of the “coalition”, regardless of its centered position in the past, leaning towards the participation as described in the Declaration. Most likely, the UCP will also take part in the elections, however by its own rules.
Therefore the pre-electoral balance of power and interests of the Belarusian opposition implies that the majority of parties and movements will participate in the campaign, at least when it starts. Without a doubt, the balance of forces within the opposition will change following the election campaign however chances are small that the campaign will change the balance of forces beyond the opposition.
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.