Single candidate from democratic forces unlikely to be nominated before year-end
Influenced by events in Ukraine, and with Belarus facing the threat of losing independence in the process of Eurasian integration, the Belarusian opposition has stepped up talks about nominating a single opposition candidate. However, the opposition parties and movements do not have a common vision or strategy for winning the elections in Belarus, which bars them from uniting around a strong opposition leader. As the ‘Ukrainian factor’ wears thin and Election Day draws nearer, contradictions and competition among the opposition structures around ‘a single opposition candidate’ will strengthen.
On May 19th, Belarus’ opposition leaders held regular consultations concerning the election of a single opposition candidate for the 2015 presidential elections.
Most opposition structures reached an agreement that a single candidate would be nominated and elected by the Congress of Democratic Forces. They are still to determine the Congress’ date. The presidential elections in Belarus should be held no later than November 20th, 2015. Meanwhile, the opposition leaders failed to agree on how to nominate Congress’ participants, who would actually vote for a single opposition candidate. Each opposition party seeks to have the most advantageous procedures for nominating its members to the Congress, regardless of the plans to nominate its candidate as ‘a single candidate’.
Currently, only two opposition parties have publicly announced their intention to nominate a single candidate – “Tell the Truth!” (Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu) and the United Civic Party (Anatoly Lebedko). “For Freedom” Movement has started to prepare to nominate its candidate as ‘a single candidate’
Interestingly, after the Ukrainian events, ‘the European choice’ has considerably lost popularity among the Belarusian population. Nevertheless, the Belarusian opposition parties and movements remain committed to European integration. They have not developed any strategies on how to build relations with Russia after Belarus joins the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU).
The ‘People’s Referendum’ initiators reacted negatively to Belarus signing the EaEU founding treaty. In a joint statement, they called for "increasing ties with the European Union", and underscored that the Eurasian integration project “is not a union of peoples, but a union of leaders, in essence, a conspiracy”.
Almost all major opposition players uphold this position, except the former communists, the United Leftist Party “Fair World” and some marginal opposition groups. The “Fair World” members welcomed the Soviet-style rapprochement, and assessed events in Ukraine along the lines of Kremlin propaganda. “Fair World” leader, Vladimir Kalyakin, has not yet publicly announced his presidential ambition, but he is a likely contender for ‘a single opposition candidate’ status.
So far, the Belarusian authorities have managed to control pro-Russian moods in society and prevented a strong leader, who could compete with President Lukashenko, from emerging. However, among the pro-Russian electorate there is a significant group which does not trust President Lukashenko and is discontent about the pace of Eurasian integration.
The Congress of Democratic Forces, at which a single candidate from the opposition will be nominated, may be held in late 2014 - early 2015. Most major opposition groups in Belarus are committed to holding such a congress and are ready to participate in it.
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.