The start of the 2015 presidential elections goes unnoticed by the electorate
The Central Election Commission has completed the process of accepting applications for the registration of initiative groups nominating candidates for presidency in Belarus.
The 2015 presidential election is not considered a real mechanism for change in terms of the political situation in the country nor by the opposition, business circles or nomenclature. The authorities expect to reduce the politicisation of Belarusian society during these elections and have, so far, limited the coverage of the election in state media. The start of the election process has gone completely unnoticed by the majority of society.
Fourteen applications for registration by initiative groups nominating candidates for presidency have been submitted to the CEC. Of them, three initiative groups have already been granted official registration in the Central Election Commission: the one which supports the nomination of the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko as well as initiative groups of Sergei Gaidukevich, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Sergei Kalakin, the leader of ‘The Just World’ party. The CEC plans to look into the applications of the remaining candidates for presidency on Monday, July 20. The number of candidates for the presidency in 2015 is slightly lower than it was during elections in 2010 when 19 applications for the registration of initiative groups were submitted. However, the majority of the teams of potential candidates numbers less than one thousand activists.
Apart from the head of state, few alternative candidates – economist Victor Tereshchenko (2010) and the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party Sergei Gaidukevich have experience of participation in presidential elections as candidates. The latter is considered by the opposition to be a sparring partner for the incumbent head of state. In addition, in 2010, such opposition organisations as the United Civic Party and ‘Tell the Truth!’ campaign which have nominated their candidates this time, too, managed to collect 100 thousand signatures, according to the data provided by the CEC. Moreover, in the past two years the ‘Tell the Truth!’ campaign has had permanent canvassing experience under a joint initiative involving four opposition organisations called ‘the People’s Referendum’. However, the leader of the ‘Just World’ party Sergei Kalyakin failed to collect the required number of voters’ signatures in 2001 despite having a larger initiative group.
It is noteworthy that a large number of opposition activists will be distracted due to their participation in the partisan observation ‘The 2015 Right to Choose’. Eight opposition organisations, whose activists are also simultaneously involved in nominating alternative candidates for presidency, are united as a part of this observation initiative.
In all likelihood, the insufficient number of activists in initiative groups of the majority of nominees will not suffice to meet the technical requirements of Belarusian legislation which states that 100 thousand signatures are required in order for an individual to register as a candidate.
In turn, some of the opposition organisations have made allegations regarding an additional mechanism used to identify invalid signatures in order to limit the number of participants of the presidential campaign. Thus, the ‘For Freedom’ movement hopes to establish a public commission to carry out an independent examination of signatures. However, such an initiative can cause additional tension and lead to mistrust amongst opposition organisations, whose resources are limited when it comes to conducting a fully-fledged campaign to collect signatures.
It is worth noting that none of the nominees among alternative candidates for presidency are attractive for nomenclature, as they have no managerial experience in high positions in government or connections within the state apparatus.
Human rights defenders underline the growing constraints for initiative groups in terms of collecting signatures in the capital, yet some improvement regarding the situation has been noted in the regions. Thus, in comparison to the 2010 presidential campaign, the authorities have expanded the list of public places, mainly squares, where picketing is prohibited in Minsk. The Belarusian leadership is most likely to limit the visual presence of opposition in the capital in order to diminish the politicisation of society throughout the presidential campaign.
In turn, compared to the capital, traditionally, the presence of opposition has been less noticeable during political campaigns in regions, which may have a negative impact on the turnout. Most likely, the authorities will be more loyal to those campaigning for alternative candidates outside Minsk. State media provide limited information on the commencement of the election process which goes on completely unnoticed by the overwhelming majority of the electorate. At the same time, the authorities increase the pressure on the representatives of independent media in the regions. Thus, independent journalists in the Gomel and Minsk regions were detained by law enforcement officials whilst capturing footage.
Hence, the majority of the population is currently unaware of the launch of the 2015 presidential elections. The authorities will try to prevent the transformation of popular discontent with socio-economic policies which are in place into a political dimension, by diluting public interest in the election campaign from the very outset.
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.