Amid growing devaluation expectations Belarusian authorities strengthen power forces
The Belarusian authorities aspire to keep people’s protest activity under control by strengthening power policy components and creating appropriate background for the election campaign. In addition, the authorities hope to preserve the loyalty of voters by speculating about the conflict in Ukraine and by emphasising the external threats to Belarus’ internal stability. Meanwhile, popular discontent with the devaluation of the national currency and falling living standards is unlikely to lead to open protests or protest voting.
Belarusians have been expecting devaluation since December 2014, and the majority links possible depreciation of the Belarusian rouble with the political campaign.
Since early 2015, the Belarusian rouble has devalued by 40%. Independent Belarusian analysts say that rouble will continue to devalue. Belarusian officials avoid using the term ‘devaluation’ in the media and usually refer to rouble’s ‘volatility’. Bearing in mind that in recent years, the national currency has been devalued several times, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to keep this issue low profile and to avoid tension in society ahead of the election day. Nevertheless, despite the lack of panic among the Belarusian population, the demand for foreign currency from the population has sharply increased.
As people’s living standards are declining the Belarusian authorities are strengthening the power block. For instance, they are reviewing the presidential directive ‘Measures to strengthen public safety and discipline’. In addition, President Lukashenka has approved the regulation on the commission to combat extremism and counter-terrorism. Such commission will be established in all Belarusian regions. Any citizen activity especially by young people, which falls outside the frameworks set for the opposition, meets a harsh response by the authorities. For instance, in May 2015, the Belarusian security services searched and arrested several young people for drawing political graffiti on buildings.
Meanwhile, the most recent devaluation in late 2014 – early 2015 has not resulted in open public protests. Amid the conflict in Ukraine, the Belarusian society has reduced the level of their expectations from the authorities regarding the growth of the living standards. Even in 2011 during the harsh monetary and financial crisis and almost three-fold devaluation of the national currency, the authorities swiftly managed to localise open discontent of the population. Back then, by using force, the special services efficiently neutralised online activity, which led to ‘silent’ protests all over the country.
If socio-economic environment deteriorates and social tension grows among electorate due to the national currency depreciation, the authorities are likely to step up measures against their opponents, inter alia, with ‘preventive detention’ of opposition and youth activists. Some time ago, Interior Minister Ivan Shunevich confirmed that the law enforcement agencies were ready to act in order to prevent protest moods in society: “I guarantee that we are ready for an adequate response to any challenge, any threat. We are ready to minimize any harmful effects. I will say even more: today we are prepared to act a little earlier, if there is a need for this, so as not to push the situation to a critical stage".
The Labour and the Tax Ministries are considering the possibility to include persons engaged in some economic activity without forming a legal entity in the social security system. When the decree No 337 comes into effect, the number of private entrepreneurs is likely to reduce due to the possibility of reducing the tax burden when switching to a tax payment as an individual. 95% of self-employed, including PE, pay insurance premiums on the basis of the minimum wage. The number of self-employed citizens is expected to increase, the number of insurance contributions to the pension system from PE will decrease, the number of citizens who will pay a fee to finance government spending will decrease by several tens. Self-employed citizens have the alternative not to pay social security fees and save resources for future pensions, which, given the gradual restriction by the state of pension requirements could be a more long-sighted option.