Belarus is going to hold parliamentary and presidential elections between the end of 2019 and the summer of 2020.
No one expects a serious contest for power, as the authorities effectively control the political process by not allowing a significant number of opposition reps into the electoral commissions, which then fail to count votes transparently.
No election in Belarus since 1996 has been recognized as free and fair by OSCE monitors.
The opposition is gearing up for both campaigns, with about half a dozen candidates already planning to run for the presidency.
Despite very scarce resources and public support, there is no apparent appetite in opposition to unite forces. Both in reality and in the public perception, Belarusian opposition remains weak and divided. Why is that the case?
1. Losers’ Image
The opposition cannot gain positive public image through its activity, as it has no access to governing the country affairs at any level. Two lone opposition MPs cannot even properly put forward their draft laws because of the cumbersome parliamentary procedures, let alone pass them through overwhelmingly loyalist legislature.
The most popular media – TV channels – are run by the state, which gives the opposition a rare voice only during electoral campaigns.
In the meantime, their activities are either ignored or lambasted. Authorities have also seriously restricted the right to protest or to engage in other kinds of outdoor political activity. This makes opposition largely invisible to the wider public in between electoral campaigns.
Not being able to deliver any political results, the opposition lacks success stories to present to voters. The people often wonder, “What has the opposition ever done for me to support it?”
2. Negative Selection
If one cannot achieve anything meaningful in a given field for decades, it runs out of talents. This has long been the case with Belarusian politics.
Gifted organizers, creative managers, and young leaders simply opt for more fulfilling jobs in fields like business, art, NGOs, journalism etc.
With a very scarce inflow of young talent, the opposition is increasingly becoming the cluster of senior politicians, who remember Belarus as a democracy 25 years ago, and passionate activists, who are not the best in managing things and who tend to leave politics the moment it disappoints or bores them.
3. Foreign Funding
Any political structure needs money to campaign and to merely exist. Belarusian business or just wealthy individuals are not keen to support the opposition. They see such endeavor as both dangerous and pointless. Hence, politicians have become accustomed to looking for sponsor money abroad.
Reliance on foreign funding has worsened the image of the opposition even further. They are now perceived by many to be working for their donors, not standing for the ordinary Belarusians.
Additionally, it created a business-like mindset among some of the opposition leaders and activists – as the comfort of their lives has begun to partially depend on how well they pitch the need to struggle against “bloody regime” to donors.
It incentivized looking for trouble instead of looking for ways to get public trust.
4. No Hope for Success
Since all the efforts to change the authoritarian government in Belarus failed, the opposition and its supporters have been gradually losing faith in themselves.
With little hope to succeed even in mid-term perspective, they lost the incentive to unite forces. Why compromise and negotiate a joint platform or candidate, if no matter what they do, the deck is fundamentally stacked against them?
In such an environment, opposition leaders’ personal ambitions trump their willingness to support each other. Hence, constant disunion.
5. Old Beefs and Mistrust
Most of the opposition politicians have been around long enough to either let down the trust of the colleagues or have their own trust let down before.
To accuse each other of collaboration with the KGB, of being too reckless or too soft to the regime is all too usual in their circles.
Because of all that, several leaders have a hard time shaking each other’s hands, let alone negotiate anything consequential.
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