Belarus wants to make elections more transparent for observers and safer for opposition
The Belarusian authorities said the election process would be more transparent for the international observers as they hoped the latter would recognise some progress in the electoral process. With this in mind, the authorities are unlikely to use brute force against their opponents as in December 2010, which however does not mean they would not use ad hoc repressions in order to preserve the overall ‘stability’ in the background of the campaign. In addition, the authorities are unlikely to allow the sharpest critics of Lukashenka to become presidential candidates, in particular, if the level of tension in society elevates to a critical point.
In an interview with the ONT TV Channel, Central Election Commission Head Lidiya Yermoshina said that the initiative to hold the presidential elections on October 11th belonged to her. She also said the main reason why the elections date had been shifted to an earlier date was due to her concern over voters and international observers: "...the situation, so to speak, has changed so as the opinion. And since it all fits in the same timeframe, there is no question of early elections. It was therefore decided that mid-October would be the most favourable time, less depressing; more pleasant for the international observers to visit the country from the weather viewpoint. November is the time of autumn blues, chronic diseases”.
It is worth noting that President Lukashenka has repeatedly stated that the elections will be conducted in accordance with the electoral calendar. He does not want any deviations from the pre-announced schedule to have any negative impact on his ratings or voters’ economic expectations. Previously, the CEC head said the most likely date for the elections was November 15th, however, in mid-June she proposed an earlier date – October 11th. The Parliament will consider the matter at its next session on June 30th.
Meanwhile, the international observers are unlikely to care about the ‘weather’ during the elections. The most logical explanation for shifting the elections date could be that the authorities wanted to leave room for holding the second round of elections. The Belarusian leadership must have some grounds to anticipate a positive assessment of elections by the international observers and some progress in the organisation of the electoral process. CEC Chairman Yermoshyna said that Belarus would invite observers from the CIS, OSCE and PACE. Moreover, she also said that there would be no restrictions on the number of observers. In addition, President Lukashenka at the meeting with OSCE Secretary General Zannier and ODIHR Director Linke said the attitude towards the international observers would be the most loyal: "Please, think that we have invited all your representatives who you believe should come to observe the election process".
Simultaneously, the authorities have reserved the right to restrict participation of alternative candidates. Should the economic problems deteriorate thus increasing protest moods in society, the CEC may use formal grounds not to register the harshest critics of the president as candidates. In particular, Yermoshina said, "Those who will get on the ballots, quite possibly, will be more balanced."
The authorities’ attempt to demonstrate greater transparency of the election process creates certain difficulties for the opposition leaders – harsh critics of the regime who count on non-recognition of the elections by the international observers. In particular, from the "Coalition for Non-recognition" Anatoly Lyabedzka, the United Civic Party leader and Sergey Kalyakin, ‘Fair World’ party Chairman, have already declared their intention to run for presidency.
The Belarusian authorities expect to avoid excessive brutality against the opposition, hoping that the international observers would recognise some progress in the election process. However, they might still use ad hoc repressions against most radical opposition candidates in order to preserve ‘stability’ of the socio-economic environment during the campaign.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.