Belarusian authorities to boost economy by reducing social protection

April 22, 2016 19:39

The Belarusian authorities have been prompted to initiate a discussion in the Belarusian society about introducing highly unpopular measures in order to relieve tension and to find a compromising solution. The state is aimed at seeking ways to optimize the existing socio-economic model and boost economic development by cutting state social guarantees. Anyway, measures proposed by the states do not envisage structural economic reforms or reduced state control of the economy.

Assistant to the president and PhD in economy Kyrill Rudy published an article in the Belarusian Economic Review, in which he explained why the retirement age should be raised and maternity leave reduced.

The Belarusian authorities launched a major campaign aiming to prepare public opinion for the inevitability of unpopular decisions, such as increasing the retirement age and reducing maternity leave. Statements by some high level officials, including the president indicate that the principled decision has already been made. So the authorities are set to discuss the timing for introducing such measures and suitable compensation mechanisms.

Both, independent and state pollsters have confirmed the extreme unpopularity among the population of the idea of raising the retirement age, which is likely to lead to enhanced protest moods. However, state pollsters from the Sociology Institute at the National Academy of Sciences said that poll results revealed that people "have the understating of the fact that the retirement age will be risen any way".

The authorities lack a comprehensive anti-crisis programme and a roadmap for socio-economic reforms, which results in low support from society. Assistant to the President and PhD in economy Kirill Rudy in his article explained the need for raising the retirement age and shortening maternity leave as probable factors of economic growth in the near future and in the five-year period.

Unpopular initiatives by the authorities to raise the retirement age and reducing maternity leave have caused a debate in the expert community and the opposition, dividing them in their assessments of the authorities’ initiatives.

Some independent media reporters have supported the state in its endeavor to cut social guarantees to the population, seeing it as an element of reforming the existing socio-economic model. However, they think it is unnecessary or even harmful for the authorities to consult with the population, where paternalistic attitudes dominate. Other independent analysts and opposition leaders are critical of the authorities’ unpopular action and hope to raise their ratings with populist rhetoric.

In addition, the government does not have a holistic view of the country’s further development, and demonstrates a desire to maintain the existing socio-economic model in a shortened form. In recent years, the authorities were only reducing social obligations to the population, without liberalization and structural economic reforms.

Currently, the authorities seek to lower tension in society over reduced state’s social guarantees, while preserving the state monopoly in the economy.

It is very likely that the final decision about increasing the retirement age and reducing maternity leave, as well as the amount of state compensation for people’s losses may be adopted within a few months of an "outreach" campaign and after the parliamentary elections.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.