Several opposition organisations have alreadybegun preparing for a new political season, whichstarts with the local elections. At the same time,forms of participation of the opposition forces in the local election campaign at the end of this yearbecome a burning issue. As noted in the previous reviews, Belarusian democratic bodies divided into two relative blocs. On the one hand, organisations of the”constructive” bloc have already announced a joint strategy for the future local, presidential and parliamentary campaigns. On the other hand,organisations of the confrontational bloc of the opposition, who chose the boycott format of participation in the previous parliamentary elections, still have no common strategic initiative for at least the nearest political campaign. Moreoverthe local elections will not promote closer relationsamong organisations of the confrontational bloc. This is caused by the fact that certain organisations have chosen another form of participation in the local campaign while they adhered to the boycottstrategy during the parliamentary elections.

One of the first organisations that declared their preparation for the local elections was the civil campaign “Tell the Truth”. Its leadership has set an ambitious goal for its branches to put forward 1,000 candidates. But nomination of such a large number of candidates for the local elections ispossible only at the expense of activists of other political forces. In addition, the resources of the younger party partner of “Tell the Truth”, which is the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), are not sufficient. The party, which had its own presidential candidate in 2006, after a series of scandals and splits dissipated its potential and many of its members are now more active in the work of “Tell the Truth”. In regions, the organisation also has possibilities for recruiting activists of other parties, mainly of the United Civil Party and the BPF. However, human resources of most parties have already been exhausted in previous campaigns at the expense of double loyalty towards the movement “For Freedom” and the “Tell the Truth” campaign. In addition, creation of the joint project of “People’s Referendum” for the local, parliamentary and presidential elections among politicized social organisations “Tell the Truth”, movement “For Freedom” and the political parties BPF and Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) reinforces the general positions of these organisations.

The Belarusian Party of the Left “Fair World” has always had strong positions and connections with the local authorities. The “Fair World” has ramified regional branches and a network of leaders who have the experience of parliamentary work like no other opposition organisation. Even after its transition into open opposition and harsh criticism of the incumbent head of state, in late 1990s the party managed to put forward more than 750 members, who received about 250 seats in local councils in 1999—2003. Despite the attempt to revive the left bloc of opposition forces (the “Fair World”, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), the Belarusian Green Party, the Belarusian Party of Labour, independent trade unions, the “Prasvet” project and the anarchist federation) at the beginning of this year, the initiative did not go beyond declarations. Formidable contrarieties between the leadership of the center-right “For Freedom” and the left “Fair World” does not allow the former communists to join the common initiative of the “People’s Referendum” as well. However, the party project on election observation “For Free Elections”, which is controlled by the leadership of the Left, during election campaigns unites not only members of the “Fair World”, but also of other opposition groups, mostly left-wing.

At the local election campaign of 2013—2014 another project that grew out of a civil campaign is expected to move to the political level. For “Our Home” this election campaign should become a serious challenge before the presidential election of 2015. For the leader of the initiative Volha Karach, successful participation in this campaign will mark the start of the presidential campaign in 2015.

The local election campaign in 2014 is important for the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) for retaining its position among other opposition forces. The local elections of 2010 were the first nation-wide campaign for the BCD, in which the party declared itself as a serious player on the opposition field. The BCD is consistently implementing its long-term strategy of strengthening its regional and local structures through the alternative platform called “the Council of People’s Deputies”. However, unlike the organisations of the constructive bloc, the BCD did not create a sustainable strategic initiative with other organisations of the confrontational bloc. These organisations frequently hold consultations on a common position on certain issues without creating a formal coalition. But the local campaign of 2014 will only deepen the contradictions between the BCD and other groups of the confrontational bloc, except with the UCP. The BCD leaders support the idea of ​​the United Civil Party (UCP) to hold primaries for nomination of the leader of the democratic forces.

In turn, local elections have never had the first place in the UCP’s political calendar. The party continues to implement a number of its projects not connecting them with the local campaign of 2014. In addition, the successful tactics of the UCP to nominate speakers during the parliamentary elections will most likely be utilised in 2014.

For other organisations of the confrontational bloc (the Belarusian Movement, Charter-97, and the Conservative Christian Party BPF), the local election campaign is not on the agenda, too. Their vision of a democratic transformation of the political system involves changing the authoritarian head of state in the first place, and then moving to other levels of power. Moreover, these organisations are more or less able to hold a presidential campaign, due to mobilisation of protest groups in society. However, they lack human resources to carry out a nation-wide campaign for the election of local councils, which requires ramified regional branches.

Preparations for the local elections positively influence the centripetal tendencies amongthe organisations of the constructive opposition. The bloc of politicized NGOs and political parties that consists of For FreedomTell the Truth”, the BPF Partyand the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), is united around the long-term initiative “People’sReferendum which is not limited to the presidential campaign. At the local elections this cooperation can be strengthened in case there is no fierce competition and drawing overcandidates by the movement For Freedom and the civil campaign Tell the Truth.

As mentioned in the previous review, some political parties can change the format of theirparticipation in the election campaign, as in the case of the BCD. This can trigger a serious conflict with groups of the confrontational bloc. But the BCD and UCP will retain their partnership, mainly as a counter to the constructive bloc strengthening its positions.

The boycott strategy of the groups of the confrontational bloc will only increase theabsenteisof the society which is almost ready for the elimination of local councils. However, this approach is even less able to cause politicisation of society during the local elections and conscious transition of citizens to active dismantlement of the authoritarian regime, or at least to joining the initiatives of the confrontational blocEspecially sincethese organisations do not have a common strategy and plans for democratisation of the political system in Belarus, and there is a serious tension between their leaders.

By Dzmitry Kukhlei