Don’t tell it too soon…
There are two strong leaders.
Those are Niaklieu and Sannikau.
Those strong managed to agree, the weaker ones cannot work it out.
U. Niaklieu, one of the Presidential candidates,
the press conference of November 12, Protected content , Minsk
To be an active player in the Belarusian politics is just like shooting in thick fog, with your index finger bleeding and your rifle sight not adjusted properly. In addition to the fog and other hindrances, the targets are moved around by ‘officially approved’ supervisors, and there are a lot of backseat drivers who have never tried shooting an actual rifle themselves but are full of presumably useful advice, so you really cannot concentrate…
But finally the shooting session is over, and nobody has hit the bull's eye. How to define who is the best?
In democratic society the best one is defined during the elections. But there are no elections in Belarus. Hence, we need some other criteria.
Collecting the required 100,000 signatures in support of a Presidential candidate cannot be a valid criterion because the final go-ahead is released only and solely by the Central Election Commission fully controlled by the present government, and the whole process is heavily influenced by international politics. That is why in Belarus it actually doesn't matter whether a candidate really managed to collect those 100,000 signatures or just faked them.
I would suggest my own method of calculating how strong is a political organization and its leader:
Strength of the organization (its leader) =
= efficiency * sustainability * influence onto the society.
1. Efficiency. Everybody knows that speaking and presentation skills are not the only prerequisite for being a successful leader, probably not even major ones. First and foremost, you have to be an efficient manager in every situation including crisis ones. How to define the efficiency of the organization and its leader? The formula is simple:
result / resources spent
Many Belarusians still consider themselves experts in agriculture, so we can rephrase this formula and ask ‘if we plant 10 buckets of potatoes in spring, how much shall we yield as harvest in fall? How much as far as resources is invested in the election campaign, and how big are the results?’
In the current political situation of Belarus we cannot compare ratings of different oppositional candidates because it is 100% clear that none of them can ever exceed Lukashenko’s rating. Instead, we must compare the efficiency with which the invested resources are used and the outcomes of that usage.
Let's compare the awareness levels for two civic campaigns as defined by the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) in June and September, Protected content
Organization title 06’10 09’10
TELL THE TRUTH! Civic Campaign 12.5 23.5
NASH DOM (Our Home) Civic Campaign 17.5 21.1
At first the organizations look the same, but there are some significant differences. The TELL THE TRUTH! Civic Campaign has their own Presidential candidate which necessarily draws a lot of attention of mass media. The NASH DOM (Our Home) Civic Campaign doesn't have any Presidential candidates. TELL THE TRUTH! can boast experienced PR managers, talented journalists, famous intellectuals, many educated and clever people from the capital. The NASH DOM (Our Home) members are mostly plain workers, local activists from provincial cities and towns. TELL THE TRUTH! has their own office in Minsk, NASH DOM doesn't. The TELL THE TRUTH! leader is a well-known poet, a celebrity traveling much abroad, and a handsome man looking nice in posters and on TV. The NASH DOM (Our Home) leader is a 31-year old young woman who graduated from a provincial teacher-training college. TELL THE TRUTH! enjoys financial investments of the presidential level, NASH DOM has nothing more but modest resources of an average NGO in Belarus. The differences are really substantial.
As for the results, they are equal.
But let's go back to efficiency as an important criterion. If we take this into account, I think we have to admit that the most efficient candidates for the current Presidential campaign are Yaraslau Ramanchuk from the United Civil Party and Grigori Kostuseu from the Belarus People's Front. Why so?
A. Gathering signatures. Grigori Kostuseu’s people gathered signatures for free. By and large the same is true for Yaraslau Ramanchuk’s party members. No one can deny that the way you ensure supporters’ signatures makes a huge difference. A person who gathers signatures for money and someone who does it because of their political principles are two very different people and they signify very different kinds of support. Besides, it's much easier to find signature gatherers if you pay them. I would suggest that one ‘free’ signature equals at least 10 ‘paid’ signatures. Moreover, Yaraslau Ramanchuk’s team was the best as far as the number of signatures per gatherer, which means that the team is well-built, well-trained, and experienced.
B. Team management and organization. As the journalist Iryna Khalip admitted into recent article titled HE TOOK ALL THE BLAME FOR IT (Vsial Vinu Na Sebia), the current authorities could easily prevent meeting of Andrei Sannikau with the OSCE experts just by delaying his flight from Berlin. As a result, the experts could not hear an alternative version of Aleh Bebenin’s death (the authorities claim that it was a suicide, but there are many evidences against it). Iryna Khalip is the person closest to Andrei Sannikau, but even she has to admit that no one from the team could replace him in such a meeting, so they organization is vulnerable even to a flight delay. That is not the case with Yaraslau Ramanchuk’s team. The authorities can throw as much sand or even stones in the wheels of Yaraslau Ramanchuk as they want, but Ramanchuk’s caravan will go on. No matter how many flights are ‘officially’ delayed, Yaraslau Ramanchuk can be replaced with Anatoli Lebedko, who can be substituted by Lev Margolin, for whom Igor Shinkarik can stand, who in his turn can be backed by Olga Karach. If none of the above are available, there will be other people to meet with important experts. The caravan will deliver no matter what.
By the way, Yaraslau Ramanchuk did not have to officially remove anyone from his team, not 80 people, not even 8, and apply to the Central Election Commission for it. This is a sign that the team was well-chosen and knew their jobs well.
C. Working with local Election Commissions. It is known only too well that the way the authorities form local Election Commissions gives them free hand for voting forgeries during elections. To prevent that, the United Civil Party proposed their own representatives into local Election Commissions, and those candidates actually numbered half of all oppositional candidates into local Election Commissions. The Belarus People's Front was the second as far as the number. Now let's take into account that Niakliaeu and Sannikau united ‘against election forgeries’ and ask ‘how many people did their teams propose to local Election Commissions?’ As far as I know, plain no one.
2. Sustainability. Let's not mix this term with ‘stability’, the word so dearly liked by the current authorities and in their interpretation actually meaning ‘no changes whatsoever’. Sustainability necessarily implies changes directed at evolutionary development, more efficient use of the current resources, and creating conditions for future potentials to emerge. So the question is ‘how will this Presidential Campaign influence the candidates and their teams?’ How will the candidates and their actions define the future of the country? Or, to put it real plain, what will happen with the United Civil Party, the TELL THE TRUTH! Civic Campaign, the Belarus People's Front, the Green Party, and others after December 19, the Election Day? Unfortunately, the TELL THE TRUTH! Civic Campaign cannot be called a sustainable organization. No one can 100% assure you (probably, even Niakliaeu himself) that the organization will survive after the elections. This is very unlikely. Here we can also remember ZUBR, the organization which was created by Sannikau for the previous Presidential elections and which disappeared soon after. Our experience shows that such organizations are created especially for the election campaigns and they cannot survive longer. As for the United Civil Party and the Belarus People's Front, they proved that they are in Belarusian politics for a very long time, and nobody can deny that those two parties will participate in many other elections to come.
3. Influencing the society. This influence is manifested not only in ratings (besides, political ratings tend to fall very easily after election campaigns). It is also the ability to influence the authorities actions, the legislation, the behavior of various social groups. The authorities invited Yaraslau Ramanchuk into the Public Consulting Board in the Presidential Administration, the Deputy Minister of Economics tried to argue with Yaraslau Ramanchuk, Ramanchuk’s opinion influenced adopting and rejection of many laws on business activities. Such examples can go on, and they show who the authorities consider their real strategic competitor.
I take no fun in criticizing the TELL THE TRUTH! Civic Campaign and its leader. I like them for many reasons. But I would really advise them to refrain from premature evaluations of the Presidential candidates and labels like ‘the strong’ and ‘the weaker ones’. The campaign is not over yet, and they should not speak too soon. December 19 will tell us who is who...