Belarus will not change economic policies

April 22, 2016 18:39

The IMF mission has continued its work in Minsk. The Belarusian authorities do not hide their reckoning on the new loan. However, the IMF has not demonstrated much excitement about the Government and the National Bank’s Joint Action Plan for structural reform and improving economy’s competitiveness.

The Action Plan for structural reform was designed for external creditors, but its implementation depends entirely on the political will of the Belarusian leader. Belarus talks about a gradual transition to a market economy in order to improve its image among investors and creditors. However, de facto, Belarus carries on with its current economic policies, as President Lukashenko will not allow economic reforms ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign.

The Belarusian authorities are aware of the problems in the economy and understand the need to remedy the economic situation. While talking about the Government and the National Bank’s joint Action Plan, Finance Minister Maxim Ermolovich said, that “the Plan had to be developed due to the economic imbalance, rapidly increasing since early 2013”.

The Belarusian authorities seek to solve the economic problems by attracting new loans, without introducing significant changes in the economic policy. The scale of economic transitions (to meet the IMF requirements) will depend on the outcomes of negotiations about oil and other subsidies between Belarus and her Eastern neighbour.

Belarus regards Russian subsidies as the main source of financing. Unlike the IMF, Russia sets much less stringent requirements for structural economic reforms. In Belarus, economic policy depends on the election cycle (next peak in 2015). Therefore, Lukashenko is unlikely to agree on any reforms ahead of the elections and government and National Bank officials are well aware of this.

Belarus wants to demonstrate economic policy progress to the IMF and to receive a positive feedback, which would improve Belarus’ image in the eyes of foreign investors. For instance, Economy Minister Snopkov said, that “I do not want money from them [the IMF], I need a positive feedback, because positive assessment by the IMF is a positive sign for investors”.

In 2015, President Lukashenko will be the least willing to reform the economy. However, Belarus’ actions will largely depend on the outcome of negotiations with Russia about economic subsidies to Belarus. The Belarusian authorities would rather ‘cut down’ social benefits for population, than make fundamental changes to the economy ahead of the elections.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.