Statkevich strengthens coalition for nonrecognition and makes it more radical

April 22, 2016 19:24

Mikola Statkevich is attempting to push for consolidation of political parties and movements, which stand for a strong pressure on President Lukashenka and non-recognition of the presidential elections by Western observers. Participants in this coalition alliance are planning to boycott the ongoing election campaign and demand holding another presidential election. Most likely, they are counting on the ‘Maidan’ scenario to occur spontaneously i.e. without appeals to voters to hold a protest demonstration on the election day. Mikola Statkevich is the main supporter of higher protest activity, while other coalition participants are very cautious in their statements and estimates with regard to protest potential in society. 

Mikola Statkevich, former political prisoner and ex-presidential candidate, is creating a new opposition coalition, which held its first press conference last week. 

The press conference was organised by Mikola Statkevich, Pavel Sevyarynets, Co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy organising committee, Anatol Lyabedzka, the United Civic Party Chairman, and Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, former presidential candidate. During the press conference, Statkevich emphasised that the abovementioned opposition leaders had formed a new opposition coalition. 

Yet it would be premature to think about full-fledged cooperation between the organisations in the coalition. For instance, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, who leads the creation of the “Movement for Statehood and Independence of Belarus”, said he was unwilling to return to the opposition or participate in any coalition unions. In addition, Statkevich has strongly opposed to cooperation with former communists from the ‘Fair World’ leftist party and the Belarusian Popular Front Party. 

The main objective of the newly created coalition is to disrupt recognition of the elections by the international observers from the OSCE. According the opposition alliance leaders, if international community recognises the presidential elections results and legitimises Lukashenka, he might jeopardize Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. In 2010, prior to the election date, President Lukashenka made concessions to the Kremlin and signed several agreements on Belarus’ accession to the Common Economic Space with Russia and Kazakhstan. However, back then, the Russian media was extremely aggressive when reporting about President Lukashenka, which is not the case this year. 

Some opposition leaders are attempting to revise their previous demands vis-a-vis the authorities, for instance, their refusal to take part in the election campaign while there were political prisoners. The release of all political prisoners has removed this requirement from the opposition’s agenda. Now, they put forward initially unacceptable demands to the authorities. For example, former leader of the "Tell the Truth!" movement Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu demanded that former political prisoner Mikola Statkevich was granted the right to participate in the ongoing campaign as a candidate. In turn, Statkevich proposed to “stop the ongoing campaign and hold normal democratic elections”. 

In the past, Statkevich was always for participation in the election campaigns, yet this time he changed his position and appealed “to ignore the election show”, which de facto meant to boycott the elections. In addition, he said that people could come out to street protest actions on the election day or event before that, which in his opinion, should prompt the authorities to hold new elections, which would adhere to democratic principles. 

Meanwhile, other alliance leaders were more cautious in their statements about yet another attempt to implement the ‘Maidan’ scenario. Their low enthusiasm is probably based on the following factors: opinion polls demonstrate that the support for protests is very low; very modest number of coalition activists; radicalisation requires very different leaders and activists, and only a small number of the coalition supporters are potentially ready for such a future. 

Satkevich and his new coalition alliance are unlikely to attract new supporters, in particular, if they encounter a tough response from the authorities. However, Statkevich might undertake drastic action with very few supporters in order to disrupt the recognition of the elections results by international observers. 

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.