United opposition mired in discussion over ‘single candidate’ nomination
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.
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.