PRAGUE, May 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Despite the opposition's overwhelming loss to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's in Belarus's presidential election in March, the organization that represents the major opposition parties in Belarus saw room for optimism in the election result.
The Political Council of Democratic Forces, which assisted opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich in his bid to prevent Lukashenka from winning a third term in office, has assessed the opposition election campaign as satisfactory.
Official results had Milinkevich winning just 6 percent of the vote in the March 19 election, which monitors from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) said failed to meet democratic standards.
However, the Political Council has determined that Milinkevich actually achieved 20 percent support -- numbers that were confirmed last month by an independent post-election survey.
Those results, the Political Council believes, are strong enough for the entire democratic camp to build upon in posing a greater challenge to Lukashenka's authoritarian regime in the future. And here is where the problems begin.
Last month, a group of younger and more radical opposition activists, who protested against the election result in a five-day tent camp on October Square in Minsk, proposed that Milinkevich lead a broad movement in Belarus with the aim of deposing President Lukashenka.
One of those activists is Ihar Lyalkou from the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF). The BNF proposed Milinkevich as a presidential candidate during an opposition convention in August 2005, which gave Milinkevich a narrow edge over Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party (AHP).
"The main thing we want today in the country and the democratic movement is to create the situation in which this movement could come to real power. We have, in both the provinces and Minsk, teams of professionals who are ready even today to become Alyaksandr Milinkevich's closest aides in the leadership of the movement," Lyalkou said.
Lyalkou and his colleagues do not want to abolish the Political Council of Democratic Forces. But Lyalkou told RFE/RL that they want Milinkevich to be solely responsible for executive decisions in the new movement.
"The movement should have the Political Council composed of the leaders of political parties. The council should remain in order to define basic, strategic directions of the movement's activity. And there must be some executive body -- which should be staffed not according to party quotas but according to exclusively professional qualities [of the staff]. This national committee should be formed by Mr. Milinkevich personally," Lyalkou said.
On April 26, during an opposition rally in Minsk to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, Milinkevich announced the creation of a Movement for Freedom. Milinkevich predicted that the opposition, if united, could depose Lukashenka in the next two years through actions of civil disobedience.
But some are skeptical of the idea of making Milinkevich the primary voice of the opposition, including AHP deputy head Yaraslau Ramanchuk.
"The movement makes sense if it is built on the currently existing coalition and includes both [opposition candidate Alyaksandr] Kazulin's party [Social Democratic Party] and the youth that does not belong to any party or youth groups. I think this initiative is disastrous for Milinkevich as a politician," Ramanchuk said.
Ramanchuk said that the Political Council of Democratic Forces should continue to coordinate opposition actions in the future, with strategic political decisions being made at national conventions.
Ramanchuk told RFE/RL that the people who want Milinkevich to be a national opposition leader represent only one political party and do not speak for the majority of the demonstrators -- mostly young people with no party affiliation -- who came to October Square in March to protest the election.
"The people who promote the movement led by Milinkevich belong to one group -- the BNF. They have been, are, and will continue to be in politics and the BNF. What, are they essentially going to run this movement? Therefore, I don't want Alyaksandr Milinkevich's electoral potential to be lost because of such initiatives," Ramanchuk said.
But Lyalkou argues that from now on Milinkevich should be promoted in Belarus as an icon of the anti-Lukashenka opposition: "The situation is such that for the first time in the past 12 years we have had a real, generally accepted -- both within our country and abroad -- leader who is an alternative to Lukashenka. Therefore, the starting conditions for a real change of the situation in the country are very good."
Judging by Ukraine's example, Lyalkou may be right. The opposition to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's regime began to score significant political successes only after Viktor Yushchenko united it under the banner of the Our Ukraine bloc in 2002 and became its clear leader. By the beginning of 2005, Yushchenko was heading the country.
(Yury Drakakhrust from RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report.)
Click on the image to view a photo gallery of election-day events in Belarus.
THE BELARUS ELECTION: To view a complete archive of RFE/RL's coverage of the March 19 presidential election, click here.
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