The authorities tightened the rules for officials and business
Trials and investigations against high-ranking officials and businessmen during the election campaign period will have a pacifying effect on business and will strengthen internal discipline in nomenklatura. The developments show that neither business, nor officials have effective tools to resist the Belarusian authorities.
On September 6th, former Deputy Chairman of the Vitebsk Oblast Executive Committee Leonid Kovalev was sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment in a maximum security prison with confiscation of property. On September 7th businessman Yuri Dankov was charged with covering up prostitution. On September 10th, the trial against the former head of the Council of the Republic Secretariat, Gleb Bedritsky, charged with corruption, will begin.
The aforementioned events are a random coincidence, but objectively speaking, the authorities are interested in tightening the rules before the elections, not only for the opposition, but also for the officials, to put their loyalty through a test. Therefore these three cases meant to send signals to at least two social groups: officials and businessmen.
In particular, the former deputy chairman of the Vitebsk Oblast Executive Committee Mr. Kovalev was convicted for large scale bribery while organizing mass entertainment in Vitebsk. The punishment for such a high ranking official has another dimension. In 2005-2008, Mr. Kovalev headed the Belarusian Republican Youth Union therefore the authorities will have an additional argument to strengthen control over the organization if necessary, as it is highly active during the election campaign.
The trial against the former head of the Secretariat of the National Assembly’s upper chamber Mr. Bedritsky will have a disciplinary effect not only on the future members and the staff of the Council of the Republic, but also on the Parliament as a whole. If after these elections some kind of political reform is initiated in Belarus (as Lukashenko previously hinted), the revealed corruption in the Parliament will allow the President to manage new deputies more effectively.
Finally, the arrest of a well known businessman Yuri Dankov, owner of the largest and oldest entertainment complex Dankoff Club in Minsk – irrelevant whether he is guilty or not – will be interpreted by other businessmen as a warning against excessively independent behavior (Mr. Dankov is known for his critical statements about the authorities). Moreover, Mr. Dankov’s arrest – he has long been a deputy of the Minsk City Council and even nominated for the presidency – will have a chilling effect on the former deputies who planned business careers after the elections.
All the three examples also demonstrate that the defendants in these cases have no effective tools to counter the authorities and to protect their interests. In particular, Mr. Bedritsky has written a request to the President asking for release, and Mr. Dankov has stoically accepted the beginning of the investigation and was not trying to start a public campaign in self-defense before the arrest. On the other hand, this is a traditional behavior of Belarusian officials and businessmen.
Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.
The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.
The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.
Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.
President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.
Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.