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ELITE DOES NOT BELIEVE THE LOCAL ELECTION WILL BE FREE AND FAIR

The upcoming local election will become the first mass political campaign after the 2001 presidential election and is likely to be an examination of public moods and efficiency of political parties. The society, as our September nation public opinion poll shows, looks at the local election with a reserved optimism. In September 60% of the respondents said they were ready to take part in it, and by the spring 2003 the figure is most likely to grow.

Political parties, most of which boycotted the previous local election under the pretext of unacceptable conditions for conducting the election in Belarus, most probably, are not going to evade the race for deputies’ mandates. With regard to electoral activity public opinion leaders and experts can be considered as a positive example for common citizens. However, the number of leaders and experts from public structures willing to participate in the election is one third higher than the number of their colleagues from private structures (See Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “Are you going to take part in the election of deputies to local Councils in March 2003?”, %

The given circumstance can be explained, first of all, by fears of the latter regarding the character of the future election. However, the stance of representatives of the private sector, 100% of whom (!) are certain the local election will not be free and fair, cannot be qualified in a soft way – these are not just fears, but a rare assurance based, obviously, on the negative experience of the past election campaigns. It is no secret that they gave rise to severe criticism from such respected organizations as the ODIHR OSCE. In fact, representatives of the public sector – they have to know well the practice of conducting elections, because some of them might have been members of district election commissions, cherish no illusions in this respect – 28% of them believe that the election is unlikely to be free and fair, less than one fourth sticks to an opposite opinion.
Before shifting to experts’ estimation of possible results of the future election, we shall remind how common citizens answered these questions in September. On the basis of the data of that opinion poll we drew a conclusion that over the last six months the public support for those who stand out for changes in the country has jumped. Previously the supporters of changes believed the majority would vote for the candidates supporting A. Lukashenko (i.e. that they were in the minority), today the picture is different (See Table 2). In other words, “the spiral of silence” IISEPS has repeatedly referred to has become untwining.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question: Question on the nature of the future voting*, %

Variant of answer
What candidate would you prefer to vote for
What candidate, do you think, the majority of voters would vote for
04’02
09’02
04’02
09’02
Candidate-supporter of A. Lukashenko
29.2
27.9
49.5
35.0
Candidate-opponent of A. Lukashenko
28.3
30.8
16.5
25.3
Other candidate
15.2
16.5
6.6
7.4
DA/NA
27.3
24.8
27.4
32.3

* Data of the nation public opinion polls conducted by IISEPS in April and September 2002

As we see from Table 3, today public opinion experts and leaders, including form the public sector (48%) are mostly going to vote for the candidates-opponents of A. Lukashenko (that means, against the current course as a whole) to a higher degree than common citizens. There is nothing to be surprised at because serious differences, if not an abyss, in the values of Belarus’ elite and the society as a whole have been known for a long time. Besides, under the present regime the elite is mostly deprived of the possibility to realize its interests, and it causes certain concern. Also it is concerned about its steady skeptical attitude regarding the society, and some experts often view the society as something frozen and sluggish. In reality, as we see from the above data, serious changes are underway in the society. Ironically, today voters are ready to support democratic candidates at the local elections to a higher degree than non-state leaders of public opinion and experts expect them to! Also today there is almost no gap in estimations of how the majority will vote, between the majority and non-state experts.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: Question on the nature of the future voting, %

Variant of answer
What candidate would you prefer to vote for
What candidate, do you think, the majority of voters would vote for
Public sector employees
Private sector employees
Public sector employees
Private sector employees
Candidate-supporter of A. Lukashenko
24
3
59
29
Candidate-opponent of A. Lukashenko
48
84
3
26
DA/NA
28
13
38
45
It is noteworthy that the respondents from public structures have an inadequate estimation of political convictions of Belarusians. It is hard to say what dominates in such estimations – lack of knowledge of true moods of voters or certainty that regardless of them voting results mostly depend on other factors. Anyway, we can conclude that today the corridors of power in Belarus are dominated by, to put it mildly, incorrect, not corresponding to the reality opinions about Belarusians. If the upcoming local election is free and fair, its results will seem surprising to many representatives of the nomenclature.
As we know, party membership of candidates is almost of no importance for common voters. Leaders and experts pay more attention to the given aspect and the majority of them favors the United Civic Party (See Table 4). As for the reasons, we can refer to a high intellectual potential of its leadership, as well as membership of prominent politicians and professionals. Aside from that, one shall not overestimate the meaning of these figures. Realistically, the UCP has enjoyed a stable reputation with the elite. Finally, the president, parliamentarians and local councils are elected not by a special collegium of voters formed by means of party, qualification or social delegation, but by all citizens having the right to vote. Unfortunately, all the Belarusian political parties, including the UCP, have a low authority among Belarusians.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question: “If you vote for a candidate from a political party, which party in particular?”, %(closed question)

What really matters – is the following. Recently, unlike a number of other opposition parties, the UCP has tried to more flexibly react to the political situation within and outside the country. First of all, it is a matter of liberals’ attempts to build contacts with the Russian establishment in order to use its possibilities of influencing the situation in Belarus. And we shall also note that such steps by the UCP irritate not only the authority, but also their colleagues from the opposition camp who expressed concern over the activity of liberals in the eastern direction.
Although long ago analysts gave up the hopes for a wide coalition of democratic forces which could have formed a single front at the local election, today in the light of the aforesaid there are certain doubts with respect to a possible election alliance on the right flank of the opposition. Its headquarters – the Coordination Council of Democratic Forces – shows no sign of life and differences become stronger and stronger.
Meanwhile the elite is positive about the idea of establishing an election bloc of opposition parties (See Table 5). Looking at these figures one is likely to ask – what objective reasons does not allow the leaders of opposition parties to realize the given idea in practice, if almost three fourths of the respondents from private structures, many of whom are not just common members, support the initiative?

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you support the establishment of a bloc of the opposition parties to participate in the election of deputies to local Councils?”, %

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question: “Over the last several parties many opposition political parties have split. For what reason, do you think?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

An answer to this question can partially be found in Table 6. Speaking about the reasons for the old splits in the opposition parties, ambitions of some party leaders are rated first (52% of the respondents). The respondents from the private sector – they are absolutely certain of that – believe that in this respect the personal factor is 1.5fold stronger than the so-called subversive activity of secret services in this direction. Obviously, ambitions of party leaders negatively affect not only the inner situation in this or that party but also the relations between such parties and their leaders. And in such situations political blocs are out of the question.