A record number of Belarusians, 55, have applied for registration of their initiative groups as candidates at the presidential election. The Central Electoral Commission has permitted 15 applicants to start collecting signatures. If candidates manage to present 100,000 authentic signatures by June 19th, they will be registered as candidates for president of Belarus.
Some candidates’ announcement to run for president became surprising for Belarusians, including businessmen and bloggers. A range of expected candidates also received a right to start signatures’ collection. Let’s take a look at the contenders that expressed their desire to run for presidency.
Team of Protest
Mikalai Statkevich, a candidate for presidency in 2010 and a former political prisoner sought to register as a candidate but was denied. During the last months, he was engaging dozens of people to apply for the registration as “candidates of protest”. Thus, around 30 candidates who came to the CEC were associates of Mikalai Statkevich, including his wife Maryna Adamovich. The main reason for their rejection became an insufficient number of authentic members of working groups in the submitted lists, or the same names in the lists of several candidates. Some of the candidates were detained at the court to support those who appealed CEC’s decision not to register initiative groups of protest candidates.
The initiative of several opposition parties to elect a single candidate by May 15th was interrupted by the pandemic and by two contenders leaving the race. Out of five candidates at the beginning, only three remained until the last tour. The sophisticated procedure on assigning points for regional travels, online voting, and expert voting was supposed to lead to there being one candidate. However, all three remaining politicians registered their initiative groups and were approved by the CEC. Thus, Yury Hubarevich (Movement for Freedom), Volha Kavalkova (Belarusian Christian Democracy), Mikalai Kazlou (United Civic Party) will try to collect 100,000 signatures by June 19th.
Opposition, farmer, musician
Musician and tattoo master Ales Tabolich presented himself as a Belarusian culture adept who will focus on cultural issues during his campaign. He has one of the smallest working groups among the registered candidates.
An application of Yury Hantsevich, a farmer from the Homiel region who became popular after his Youtube videos and unusual approach to campaigning, has been approved. During the parliamentarian election campaign of 2019, he was organizing electoral meetings with cows and goats.
Hanna Kanapatskaya, one of the two former opposition representatives in the Parliament and former member of the United Civic Party, has been permitted to start signature collection with her group of 1,313 people. Andrey Dzmitryeu is a representative of Tell the Truth campaign, whose leader Tatsyana Karatkevich was the first female candidate for presidency in 2015. His working group was registered. At the CEC meeting, he expressed a view that the number of signatures needs to be lowered to 70,000. Dzmitryeu is a former head of Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu campaign in 2010. In the last few years he was responsible for training and preparing hundreds of Belarusians to work during a political campaign.
The CEC also registered Syarhei Cherachan, the leader of Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada, who just turned 35 years old that is a lower barrier to be formally allowed to run for presidency. Uladzimir Nyapomnyashchykh, a former policeman and later opposition activist, was also registered.
Veterans of the presidential campaign
Alyaksandr Lukashenka registered his team with around 11,000 in a working group. Aleh Haydukevich’s team received a green light for collecting signatures. Aleh Haydukevich is a leader of the liberal-democratic party, and a son of Syarhei Haydukevich who was running for presidency in 2001, 2006, and 2015.
IT-managers, businessmen, and bloggers
One of the unexpected candidates with a registered working group of 147 people was Natallya Kisel, a 51-year-old entrepreneur from Minsk. She is also one of the four women whose applications were approved by the CEC.
Valery Tsapkala, founder of Belarusian High Technologies Park and a former ambassador of Belarus to the US, has surprised Belarusians with his presidential ambitions. He sold his house to be able to finance his election campaign.
Viktar Babaryka has been in the lead of the race so far by the number of working group members – 8,905. Before applying to the CEC, he left his job as a head of Belgazprombank, where he had worked for twenty years. Babaryka collected around 10,000 people willing to join his initiative group just within a few days.
Syarhei Tsikhanouski, a popular Belarusian Youtuber, ended up in jail for calls to participate in an unsanctioned anti-parade rally on May 9th. He was released from prison earlier than court decision read, just after the deadline for applying to the CEC passed. Even though his working group was not registered because of the absence of his signature, his wife Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya decided to run. Her initiative group was registered, and the blogger is to coordinate her campaign. At the CEC conference, Svyatlana said she was dreaming about running for presidency her whole life.
What’s unique about presidential election 2020?
The popularity of certain unexpected potential candidates signals that this campaign might become the most competitive and diversified in the history of independent Belarus, despite the violation of electoral procedures during the vote count.
The three surveys conducted among readers of newspapers and Telegram channels showed that Viktar Babaryka is leading the polls with more than 40% of the votes, the second and the third place are shared between Tsapkala and Tsikhanouskaya (her husband in the two ratings that were conducted earlier), while Lukashenka received only 3-6%.
The authorities are clearly speeding the presidential election of 2020. Firstly, the election set for the 9th of August was announced just three months before the election day, giving only six days to apply to the Central Electoral Commission. Collecting 100,000 signatures in Belarus in such a short term in conditions of a pandemic is rather challenging. Therefore, it is clear already now that only some candidates with the biggest initiative groups will succeed in this.
Secondly, the CEC will announce the results of the signature collection between 5th and 14th July, meaning that some candidates will find out about their registration only three weeks before the election day. Such a hurry indicates that authorities attempt to limit opportunities for Lukashenka’s opponents for conducting a full-scale election campaign.
Alesia Rudnik for belsat.eu