Lukashenka consolidates regime loyalty and reins in the development of political parties
The President continues to consolidate regime loyalty by sifting functionaries with career aspirations on ideological grounds. Optimistic GDP growth indicators from sectors such as agriculture facilitate ongoing financial support for other state-owned enterprises. The Ministry of Justice has refused to register the pro-Russian Soyuz (“Union”) party.
Last week Lukashenka held a meeting to discuss the strengthened regulation of civil servants. At the peak of the political crisis in August - September 2020, senior leaders consolidated around the figure of Lukashenka. However, some lower-ranging functionaries were more ambivalent and adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Some officials even sympathized with the opposition and resigned or sabotaged orders from the leadership. These elements are now being purged by the security forces, commencing with the least loyal departments.
Lukashenka is trying to co-opt the leadership of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, which mainly supported the incumbent leadership during the political crisis of 2020. That said, a Chatham House poll recorded a high level of public confidence in the Church, second only to independent media.
The authorities are maintaining their policy of financial support for agriculture, which has proved effective both in terms of the positive contribution of farming organizations to GDP growth and the high political loyalty of the sector.
First-quarter results from the banking sector generate positive expectations among the Belarusian leadership and confidence in current fiscal policy.
As a consequence of the political crisis, citizens continue to invest in hard currency on a mass scale; however, the National Bank maintains stability in the monetary and financial markets for the time being.
Belavia reported multimillion-dollar losses amid the pandemic, but this did not result in layoffs or other staff reductions. Maintaining public sector employment remains a high priority for state leadership to mitigate potential agitation by the labor movement.
The Ministry of Justice has refused to register the political party “Soyuz”, which promotes Belarusian-Russian integration and is nominally loyal to Lukashenka due to the risk that it might attract a pro-Russian audience disillusioned with the Belarusian leadership. The authorities also declined to authorize the “Immortal Regiment” rally in Minsk and Brest 9 (a massive civil event staged in major cities in Russia and around the world every 9 May during the Victory Day celebrations).
Lukashenka is wary of institutionalizing the interests of the nomenklatura rather than a single individual, but nevertheless signed a decree on the “collective presidency”, which will be enacted in the case of his death. In the meantime, some sections of the political class continue to advocate the adoption of a more collegial structure of governance.
Efforts to demotivate protestors proceed apace as the courts sentence opposition activists to long prison terms.
In summary, Lukashenka continues to defend his personal nexus of power by obstructing the development of political parties, even when they would apparently be ideologically loyal.