The president comes down on agrarians; local authorities are put in charge of the fight against “social dependants”
Agrarians are losing their influence in the state administration as the state attempts to improve efficiency of the state subsidies issued to agroindustry. The top leadership aims to stay away from the updated decree on ‘social dependants’ and have put local authorities in charge of its implementation. The authorities have tested the idea of holding a constitutional referendum and introducing further restrictions on the media, on social response.
Financial and industrial groups in the president’s environment are revising their powers as agrarians are losing their influence due to cuts in state subsidies to agroindustry. After significant budgetary cuts to agroindustry in 2018 as compared with previous years, the president has lashed out at agrarians. Primarily due to the attempts of the Russian agro-lobby to restrict imports of Belarusian produces to Russia, the Belarusian authorities fear to lose export markets for domestic agricultural products.
The government has followed President Lukashenka and shifted the responsibility for the implementation of the updated "decree on social dependants" on local authorities. Local authorities have received broad powers in implementing the decree, which, in the case of growing social tension and street protests in the regions would enable the president to criticise the local authorities’ overreach and interfere to ‘remedy’ the situation. That said, the government has learned from its past mistakes and attempted to reduce the likelihood of protests: the tax on social dependants has been abandoned entirely. Instead, they would be obliged to pay full housing and utilities costs, including heating.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian leadership continues to test people’s response and set the ground for to a possible constitutional referendum. Following the president, the Central Electoral Commission head, Yermoshina, has confirmed to the parliament that the authorities were working on a proposal for a nationwide referendum, yet issues and possible dates for holding such a referendum have not been finalised. With the political campaigns of 2019/2020 in mind, the authorities are attempting to step up control over the Internet and online media.
Depending on the response of the media community and Western observers, the authorities could mitigate some of the most criticized amendments to the media law. However, the government is likely to continue to seek to restrict influence of independent online media on public opinion.