Following the election of Alexander Milinkevich as the leader of the united opposition at the Democratic Convention in early October, the Belarusian opposition has begun to elaborate its tactics for the anticipated elections in the summer of 2006.
The Political Council created after the Convention recently approved the strategy for the Milinkevich campaign, which has four key directions. First: the nomination of a single candidate and a campaign to achieve the support of 50% of the electorate. Emphasis is placed on creating a positive image of the candidate and broadening the campaign. Second: the mobilization of the public and the need to put strong pressure on the authorities not to falsify the election results. Third, according to Alexander Dabravolsky, it is necessary to create a “broad movement of the majority,” a statement that assumes that the silent majority does not support President Alexander Lukashenka. Milinkevich himself also stated the importance of involving public associations in the broad coalition that the opposition hopes to create (Belarusy i Rynok, October 31).
This last goal was also expressed at a roundtable on “The Third Sector in Belarus in 2006: Its Place and Functions,” held in Minsk and moderated by Tatyana Poshevalova, the head of the Center of Social Innovation. The roundtable was attended by 20 non-governmental organizations, including Rada, Ekodom, and Post, as well as Viktar Korneyenka, a representative of Milinkevich’s headquarters, who was attending, in his words, “to look for supporters (BDG Delovaya Gazeta, October 25).
Though the Milinkevich campaign seems to have started well, the omens are rather mixed, according to a recent poll conducted by the National Institute for Social-Economic and Political Research under Ole Manayev, which now operates in Vilnius. The poll was based on 1,504 respondents in Belarus over the age of 18 on a variety of issues in face-to-face interviews.
In general, the respondents revealed a trust in official institutions; first and foremost the Orthodox Church, followed by the army, and then the state media and the president. The index of trust in the president has risen considerably since last June. Least trusted were organs of state power like the Central Election Commission, the courts, and the parliament, but ranking dead last were the Belarusian opposition political parties. However, somewhat undermining the validity of these responses, 50% declared that many or all people were afraid to express their views, particularly outside Minsk (BDG Delovaya Gazeta, October 25).
In terms of the presidential contest, 47.5% stated their intention to vote for Lukashenka and 25.5% for an opposition leader — even though at the time of the poll, the results of the Democratic Convention were not yet known. Lukashenka’s personal rating had risen to 47% (compared to 41.7% in May), which Manayev attributes in part to an aggressive propaganda campaign and the international self-isolation of Belarus. During an election, 45% declared their readiness to reelect Lukashenka, while 45% felt it would be preferable to give an opportunity to an alternative candidate. In general the more affluent among the respondents were more likely to oppose the president. Over 70% believed that Lukashenka would win, 15% felt he could be removed by a democratic “color revolution,” and 15.5% were ready to take to the streets in protest if the results were falsified (76% declared they would not do so). Lastly only around 13% favored the integration of Belarus into the Russian Federation, whereas 20% had supported this three years earlier (Narodnaya volya, October 26).
That these results preceded the emergence of Milinkevich may give rise to some hope for a serious campaign. If one were to summarize the overall picture from the survey, one could state that overall the president remains popular, but his support is not overwhelming — nothing like the 83% he claimed to have received during the October 2004 referendum — and a substantial percentage would support an alternative candidate while a heavy majority favors the retention of independence, a key factor in the Milinkevich campaign.
A key question, however, is: to what extent the opposition is truly united? Leaders of the Conservative Christian Party of the BPF (CCP BPF) denounced the Democratic Convention as a “noisy show of the anti-Belarusian pseudo opposition.” It accused the Convention leaders of making regular trips to Moscow to exchange information with the Russian secret services, and claims that this united opposition was created at the end of the 1990s by Russian and German secret services to split and eliminate the BPF “Aradzhenne” formed a decade earlier. The alleged goal of the Congress, according to CCP BBF leaders declared, was to distract attention from the only true candidate of Belarusian national democracy and the Belarusian people, Zyanon Paznyak (Belarusy i Rynok, October 24).
This outburst demonstrates the depth of enmity among some opposition groups, and the exiled Paznyak’s antagonism toward Milinkevich. The CCP BPF opposes any strategy that is conciliatory toward Russia and would prefer to boycott any official election or referendum campaigns. Such squabbling only benefits the regime and the incumbent president, and it undermines the claim of Milinkevich to speak on behalf of a united opposition. Clearly he must continue his quest to unite as many parties and groups as possible.