The latest survey conducted by the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies in June 2004 suggests that there is a new pool of contenders for the Belarusian presidency (iiseps.by). However, the electorate remains unconvinced that any of the individuals could mount a realistic challenge to the President Alexander Lukashenka.
The poll, the latest in a quarterly series, indicates that the population of Belarus is uninterested in issues such as the independence of the country, the collapse of the “national culture,” or relative threats from Russia or the United States. Rather they are preoccupied with material issues, such as the rising costs of living, unemployment, crime, and law and order. When asked: Which is more important: the improvement of the economic situation or the country’s independence; 73.7% opted for the former issue, and only 19.2% the latter.
However, the questions pertaining to political views provide interesting and in some respects contradictory results. A clear majority (50.9%) opposes Lukashenka’s idea to hold a referendum on a third term. Some 56.4% of the respondents would vote for a candidate who could actually defeat Lukashenka in the next presidential election. Yet respondents are unconvinced that any of the current frontrunners could pose a serious challenge.
These potential candidates are significantly different from those of September 2001. At that time, the candidates included initially Syamon Domash, Uladzimir Hancharyk, and the Liberal Democratic Party leader, Syarhey Haydukevich. Hancharyk’s candidacy led to the withdrawal of Domash and the non-candidacy of leading opposition activists, such as Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front; Stanislau Shushkevich, former parliamentary chairman and leader of the Social Democratic Party, and Anatoly Lyabedzka, chairman of the United Civic Party.
To the question “For which of the potential candidates for president of Belarus would you vote, and which would you oppose?” the results were as follows:
The survey revealed a relatively poor showing of potential candidates from traditional political parties. Only Lyabedzka of the United Civic Party appears to be a viable candidate. Others, such as Shushkevich, Vyachorka, or the exiled leader of the Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front, Zyanon Paznyak, do not figure at all. Similarly, from the Respublika group, only Frolau appears on the list. Aside from Klimau, most of the leading candidates are very senior members or former members of the ruling structure.
Marinich (aged 64), the subject of a recent arrest, is a career diplomat who has served as Belarus ambassador in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland, as well as president of an association called Business Initiative. Voytovich (66) is a former president of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and the current chairman of the Council of the Republic. Like Shushkevich, he is a renowned and decorated physicist. Tozik (55) has the background of an historian, as well as a major general in the army. He has served as Chairman of the Committee for State Control since 2000. Lyavonau (Leonov) (66), is a former Minister of Agriculture and Food Production, who received several public reprimands from Lukashenka during his term of office and was then arrested on charges of theft in 1999, but served only one year of his four-year sentence.
Klimau (38) represents a different generation, and has been a fierce opponent of Lukashenka for several years. A businessman and deputy of the Parliament of the 13th session, he was arrested and severely beaten for his opposition to the referendum of November 1996, and arrested again in 2000 (his seven-year term was reduced by an amnesty in 2002), and freed last year. Earlier, he served in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (1983-91).
The survey measured each candidate individually against Lukashenka in a potential run-off election for president. While support for the incumbent president was relatively stable between 34% and 36%, the challengers fared as follows:
Curiously no survey was taken of the potential runoff support for Lyabedzka.
Support for Klimau already exceeds that received by Hancharyk in 2001. And while Lukashenka at present has no serious reason to fear any contender, he will find it difficult to raise his support above the 35-36% margin, meaning that there would certainly be a runoff, providing that the election were free and fair. Before he can reach this stage, moreover, he must convince the electorate that a third term is desirable. Given his citizens’ skepticism and preoccupation with economic rather than political issues, Lukashenka is likely to face some uncomfortable moments as he approaches the end of his second term in office.