The split within the opposition to secure legitimacy of the Parliamentary elections
The Belarusian opposition will not boycott the 2012 Parliamentary election campaign. The majority of the opposition movements will take part in it in one way or another, with the redistribution of political capital within the opposition as a major stake.
On 31 January six opposition parties and movements failed to reach a principled agreement on the participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Instead, four political movements signed a ‘Declaration for a public discussion’ about opposition’s participation in the elections.
On 31 January the Belarusian opposition “coalition of the six” split into three main groups around the issue of participation/boycott of the elections.
Firstly, supporters of the boycott of the elections include non-registered parties and organizations: the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD), the Organizing Committee of the People’s Assembly and the “Belaruski ruh” Movement. A demarche of Co-chairman of the BCD Vital Rymasheuski on January 31 wrecked the signing of a joint declaration.
Secondly, the registered parties and movements that signed the ‘Declaration for a Public Discussion’: the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada), “For Freedom” and “Tell the truth!” movements. The Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada) joined the “coalition of the six” on the eve of signing of the Declaration. The ex-Communist Party “Fair World” is planning to join the Declaration at a later stage.
The Declaration calls for organization of a national debate about the format of the participation of the opposition in the parliamentary elections. It is an appeal to the “population”, which implies the signatories’ desire to share responsibility for the decision and, de facto, means a soft rejection of the idea of a boycott. The document was not signed by the leaders of these organizations, but by their deputies and coordinators, except for the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada).
The Declaration does not preclude political parties from the nomination of candidates for the elections, however provides for withdrawal of candidates, if the authorities fail to meet the set preconditions (the release of all political prisoners). Nevertheless, the Declaration allows its signatories to join the campaign, thereby filling it with a political content.
The United Civic Party dropped out of the “coalition”, regardless of its centered position in the past, leaning towards the participation as described in the Declaration. Most likely, the UCP will also take part in the elections, however by its own rules.
Therefore the pre-electoral balance of power and interests of the Belarusian opposition implies that the majority of parties and movements will participate in the campaign, at least when it starts. Without a doubt, the balance of forces within the opposition will change following the election campaign however chances are small that the campaign will change the balance of forces beyond the opposition.
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.