Andrei Sannikov: Either Statkevich runs in elections, or boycot

The Belarusian opposition has a chance to implement the common strategy. Andrei Sannikov, the leader of the European Belarus civil campaign, said it in an interview with

– The so called presidential elections are held in Belarus this year. Different political forces in Belarus support different scenarios. In your view, which strategy should opposition choose?

– Searches for the so called common candidate for presidency and attempts to form election coalitions are doomed to failure. Firstly, it conflicts with the previous statements by opposition leaders who said that running in the elections is not possible until all political prisoners are released. Secondly, it is not interesting for society. Whatever initiatives and schemes to propose a common candidate are put forward, they found no response among people.

As the previous presidential and local “elections” showed, people don’t believe any more that something resembling an election campaign is possible under Lukashenka’s rule. In my opinion, the most reasonable proposal is that by Siarhei Skrabets: forming an initiative group to propose Mikalai Statkevich as a presidential candidate, demanding his registration and release of him and other political prisoners. If the authorities don’t hear this call and demand, we should boycott the elections. I think this is the most reasonable proposal today.

– Will this strategy help release political prisoners?

– By creating the unreal schemes for the so called elections, opposition puts the problem of political prisoners to the back burner, though it is the most acute one. It is right to demand the release of the prisoners of conscience as part of a political campaign. It will work if all forces unite and demands to release the political prisoners are firm.

– In your view, will the politicians who said they would run for presidency be able to sacrifice their ambitions?

– They must sacrifice if we speak about morality. Opposition in countries with an authoritarian or dictatorial regime is strong first of all for its moral qualities. If opposition wants to be interesting for people, these qualities must prevail. They just should take a final decision. It forms a good foundation for the consolidation.

– The consolidation of whom?

– This platform can consolidate all, but without any excuses, backups and dubbing actors. The principled line must be the following: either Mikalai Statkevich is the common candidate and we demand his release, rehabilitation and registration, or we boycott the elections. Posing the question like that will show the capability of opposition, give an opportunity to take active and decisive measures and carry out a political campaign despite all unfavourable conditions.

– How can the boycott be carried out if it is illegal in Belarus today?

– I’d like to remind you that both in accordance with the Constitution of Belarus and international standards, it is illegal to forbid calling for a boycott. Boycotting is a form of participation in elections. Under international documents, the right to boycott elections is equal to the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assemblies and freedom of association. This is a legal and absolutely clear instrument and way of participating in elections.

The fact that Lukashenka banned any activity that he calls a boycott shows his fear of public opinion, real moods among people and understanding that he has no real support in society.

– What is a boycott in Belarus?

– We have a double task: to release the political prisoners and, depending on it, to choose a from of participating in the elections. It would be wrong to think that people don’t hear opposition and don’t put hopes on us. Remember how opposition called to boycott the “parliamentary elections” in 2000, 2008 and 2012. Voters listened to opposition, and it was a boycott, in fact. That’s why the authorities decided to ban it.

When opposition called to take part in the presidential elections in 2006 and 2010, it was the highest voter turnout. The most easiest for observers is to monitor the turnout, because they are not allowed to watch vote counting.

Besides, everyone can make a conscious choice. A boycott is good because it doesn’t require any party decisions. We don’t have many parties. Every person can say ‘yes’ to the release of the political prisoners and ‘no’ to the regime and shameful elections.

– Lukashenka has to hold the so called elections amid the severe economic crisis, the ruble’s fall, layoffs at most big enterprises and a sharp decline in wages.

– That’s true. This is what we should talk about. We need to explain that myths about stability died long ago, as many as four years ago after the first serious devaluation of 2011. We should explain to people that they have no future with Lukashenka.

– Is opposition ready to lead the protests, which are inevitable in current conditions?

– Protest leaders will appear. If the current leaders are ready, I can only praise them. It was in the 1990s and it will repeat now. Leaders and organisers of protests will appear. Oppositions needs not to miss this moment.

– What role do you take in this situation? You nearly won the previous presidential elections.

– The core of my team remains the same. I feel people’s support. The programme that I proposed in 2010 is still up to date because it contains proposals of how to tackle the crisis. I will be ready to take part in the implementation of the programme.

The European Belarus civil campaign is ready to support the strategy of proposing Mikalai Statkevich as a presidential candidate and calling for a boycott if he is not registered. Of course, we will take active part in the campaign both in and outside Belarus.

The Lukashenka regime is outdated both politically and economically. Officials and law-enforcement bodies should think where they can lead the country to with Lukashenka. It’s never late to sober up.