Tighter conditions for opposition to participate in local elections
In the 2014 local elections, the authorities aim to keep the balance between low voter turnout and minimally acceptable turnout. During the local elections campaign, the opposition aims to strengthen its long-term capacity in building strategies. Despite stricter campaigning rules for the opposition, the ‘People’s Referendum’ coalition anticipates strengthening its campaigning capacity during the local elections.
The deadline for applications to register initiative groups passed on January 16th. Applications to register initiative groups from political parties constituted less than 2% of all applications, said Central Elections Commission secretary Nikolay lozovik, as BelTA reported.
During all recent political campaigns, the Belarusian government has been implementing some effective measures to depoliticize the Belarusian population. However, the growth of absenteeism which has started to spread, inter alia, among pro-governmental supporters, carries certain risks for the local authorities.
While the local authorities are not directly dependent on the population, the growing crisis of confidence in the local authorities amid the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the regions is associated with certain risks. According to the IISEPS December poll, trust in local authorities fell below 30%: only 28.6% trust the local Executive Committees and 28.9% - the local councils. In order to improve this state of affairs, the government needs to report a relatively high turnout in the local elections and support of pro-governmental candidates. In this regard, some state media have increased their coverage of local elections.
Meanwhile, local authorities and law enforcement agencies traditionally apply ad-hoc repressions against most active opposition leaders. At the registration stage, some potential oppositional candidates have encountered increased pressure from the local authorities. The local authorities have allowed few opposition candidates in the territorial and district election commissions, creating negative attitudes and increasing apathy among democratic activists. For example, of the 364 district election commissions, only 11 include opposition party members.
The authorities also attempt to limit opposition activity, and severely punish the most active. For instance, United Civic Party leader Anatoly Lebedko, who organized signature collection for a petition against a car tax in a congested area of Minsk’s centre, was beaten by law enforcement officers and given a large fine.
Most opposition movements regard local elections as preparation for the presidential campaign. For instance, the ‘People’s Referendum’ leaders focus on working with the electorate, rather than arguing about the procedures how to identify a ‘single’ candidate form the opposition, which has already yielded results. According to IISEPS, "Tell the Truth!" leader, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu was the only opposition politician whose electoral rating grew in Q4 2013. In the same period, Lukashenko’s electoral rating decreased.
Despite some unpopular measures recently adopted by the Belarusian government, Belarusians tend to keep away from the opposition and do not enter the political sphere to defend their interests. One initiator of a petition for better working conditions for ER doctors said, “We are not the opposition, we take a neutral political stance”.
It is reasonable to say that the 2014 local elections will follow a tougher scenario than the 2010 local campaign or the 2012 parliamentary elections. The Belarusian authorities will narrow the framework for opposition activity, social tensions will grow and fewer resources will be allocated to support populist policies.
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.