Single presidential candidate: Belarus opposition facing challenge

The upcoming presidential election is to be held no later than 30 August 2020. Incumbent president Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced his intention to run for the post yet another time. Later, five opposition parties declared they would be selecting the common candidate. Opposition plans to use the system of primaries, which will be a new experience for Belarusians.

In midst of restrictive political system

Six of seven presidential elections in independent Belarus have been not recognized by the OSCE and Western countries. In addition to election fraud, their reports always highlighted that the Belarusian opposition had restricted access to the electorate. The latter strives for gaining popularity, but mainly grasps the audience through social networks and independent media outlets.

Since 1994, Lukashenka has been taking steps to weaken the political elites and opposition. Moreover, the Belarusian president aims to present himself as the only ruler of Belarus. Political constraints put on the oppositional candidates in 2006 and 2010 demonstrated the accumulation of power in the hands of Lukashenka. Despite significant efforts of opposition to reach out to Belarusians, many still put faith in him.

Mike Pompeo and Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Photo: KEVIN LAMARQUE / Reuters / Forum

In the context of oil and integration disputes with Russia, Lukashenka got even more confidence in standing out as a ‘protector’ of Belarus’ independence. Moreover, the West has opened up for a dialogue with Lukashenka, prioritizing security in the region over the human rights concerns. A recent visit of the US State Secretary Mike Pompeo highlighted the support of the US to Belarus’ independence and sovereignty, with a lesser attention to human rights. In that sense, political conflict with Moscow and speculations around the threat to the country’s independence, increases chances for the Belarusian president to strengthen his external legitimacy.

Common candidate 2020: who is it?

Five opposition parties (Belarusian Christian Democracy, Belarusian People’s Front, United Civic Party, For Freedom movement, Belarusian Social Democratic Party) came up with the idea to select a single by holding primaries.

“After serious and extended discussions, the opposition managed to agree on nominating a single candidate; a nomination mechanism has been developed. The single candidate must unite all the democratic forces of the country and become the leader of the joint work for the return of Belarus to the path of democratic development, ” the press service of the United Civic Party reports.

Each candidate should pay €500 for participating in the primaries. The election of the candidate is to be held on the Congress of Democratic Forces in May. Each of the candidates will be assessed according to the 100-point scale. Maximum thirty points may be assigned for campaigning in the regions, up to 30 points may be got by online voting, another 30 may be given at the Congress, and up to 10 points may go to a candidates from the organizing committee.

Belarusian political scientist Valer Karbalevich criticizes the system of points:

“So, it turns out that 70 points out of 100 to the common candidate will come from the opposition activists. And there are only 30 points left for the ordinary people on the Internet.”

The organizers of the primaries believe that the potential candidates should: advocate for democracy and development of the Belarusian culture, push for Belarus’ withdrawal from the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Union State with Russia, as well as for the normalization of the relations with the US and the EU.

So far, five candidates are expected to take part in the primaries: Pavel Sevyarynets (BCD), Yury Hubarevich (Movement For Freedom), Volha Kavalkova (BCD), Alyaksei Yanukevich (BPF), Mikalai Kazlou (UCP). Many believe that Sevyarynets, the leader of the anti-integration protests in December 2019, and Hubarevich are the most likely candidates to be selected. To date. Hubarevich is the only person who paid the participation fee. Volha Kavalkova is collecting votes online in order to get registered for the primaries.

Any chance to win?

However, one cannot say that opposition is coming out in a united front. For example, Tell the Truth is going to put forward their own candidate; 2015 presidential wannabe Tatsyana Karatkevich, may join this year’s сampaign. According to Ihar Barysau, one of the organizers of the primaries, the participation in the procedure is open for everyone, however it is up to the committee to decide on who is eligible.

“All decisions are made by consensus. Karatkevich has the right to submit the documents, but will she be included in the procedure as a democratic candidate? Because there is no trust in this organization [Tell the Truth – Belsat]. We remember the 2015 scandal over falsified signatures,” says Barysau.

The result of the vote in the system built on fraud is predictable; it is hardly influenced by the opposition leaders’ actions. At the same time, the fact that the Belarusian opposition decided to conduct the primaries can have a positive effect on its image. The recognition rate of the representatives of the opposition in Belarus is still quite low.

Public opinion poll: Support for integration with Russia plummeting in Belarus

Recently, the Belarusians have demonstrated lesser support for the integration with Russia. The research by Vardamatski agency shows that in the last four months, support to the integration with Russia dropped from 54,8% to 40,4% while pro-European attitude increased from 24,4% to 32%.

Amid decreasing support for the integration with Russia, the Belarusian opposition can use a chance to introduce its agenda to the broader electorate. Even though it has minor chances to win, opposition activists have an open opportunity to make use of the pro-independent spirit of Belarusians. However, the effectiveness strongly depends on how the right-wing opposition bloc will use this chance.

Alesia Rudnik,