United opposition mired in discussion over ‘single candidate’ nomination

April 22, 2016 18:53

Drawn-out discussions on minor procedural issues are lowering the likelihood of a single opposition candidate being selected for the 2015 presidential election. What is more, none of the opposition party can guarantee its candidate the status of ‘single candidate’ without allying with another. If consensus is not reached soon, some participants may leave the negotiating table.

The next presidential elections may be held anytime until November 2015, however, it is still not clear who will contest President Lukashenko in 2015.

The united opposition has repeatedly rescheduled the date for making a final decision on how to select a single candidate for the 2015 presidential election. They have long decided on the format, i.e. electing a ‘single candidate’ at the Congress of Democratic Forces, but cannot reach a consensus about the Congress delegates’ nomination mechanisms.

Seven major political parties and movements are taking part in the negotiations: four members of the “People’s Referendum” coalition, two members of the “Talaka” coalition, and one from the non-registered party Belarusian Christian Democracy. Some opposition structures have already determined their potential contenders for the ‘single candidate’ status.

"Tell the truth!" leader, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu was the first to announce his presidential ambitions. He has the highest rating among other opposition politicians, and his nomination was also supported by the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada).

United Civic Party leader Alexander Lebedko, who narrowly missed out on becoming the democratic forces’ single candidate in 2006, announced his presidential ambitions. However, UCP’s partner from the ‘Talaka’ coalition – the Leftist Party "Fair World" – has yet to make any public statement either in support of the UCP leader, or to nominate their own candidate.

Moreover, among the former communists (‘Fair World’) pro-Russian sentiments are rather strong, unlike in other opposition organisations. After events in Ukraine, cooperation between Fair World and the remaining opposition during the presidential campaign and their consensus about Belarus’ geopolitical interests is highly unlikely. In addition, pro-European movements - "For Freedom" and the Belarusian Popular Front, are likely to nominate their own candidates for the ‘single candidate’ status.

As anticipated, the contradictions and competition between the opposition structures are heightening as leaders vying for ‘single candidate’ status amass. In addition, consultations about the Congress’ procedural issues have stalled. The opposition leaders strongly doubt the electoral success of whoever is selected to be the ‘single candidate’, which significantly reduces their motivation to unite. Each opposition party also fears that all donor resources will be concentrated in the single candidate’s hands and his/her supporting structures - at the expense of other coalition partners.

As negotiations about procedural issues stall, the likelihood of choosing a ‘single candidate’ at the Congress reduces. If consensus within the opposition is not achieved soon, some coalition members might start quitting the negotiations. 

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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.