Belarusian opposition divided into three blocks ahead of 2015 presidential elections
Political opposition in Belarus has divided into three blocks ahead of the 2015 presidential elections. Some opposition organisations will seek to prevent recognition of the presidential election’ results by the international community. This group, led by Anatoly Lebedko will promote political and human rights agenda during the elections. The ‘People’s referendum’ coalition, led by Tatsiana Karatkevich, will aim to prepare for the parliamentary elections and will focus on promoting social agenda. The remaining opposition forces might unite around Elena Anisim or Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu and promote nationalistic agenda. These three opposition groups are very unlikely to unite or form larger coalitions.
Four Belarusian opposition organisations, which form the ‘People’s Referendum’ campaign have established joint headquarters for the next two years in order to participate in the 2015 presidential and the 2016 parliamentary elections. In addition, they have divided responsibilities among themselves: ‘Tell the Truth!’ will be in charge of the 2015 election campaign; the Belarusian Popular Front Party - of forming a single candidate list for the 2016 parliamentary elections (starting now); ‘For Freedom’ movement will be responsible for running the ‘People’s Referendum’ public campaign; and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) – for co-ordinating activities with other democratic forces. The coalition members hope to integrate the presidential and parliamentary campaigns within one strategy. For instance, heads of election HQs for each presidential candidate within the ‘People’s referendum’ campaign will become candidates in the parliamentary elections, which means they will build up on experience they gained during the presidential campaign. The ‘People’s Referendum’ coalition’s longer-term strategy is to preserve the coalition during the post-election period, to increase its overall political capital, and develop a common strategy.
The leader of the so-called ‘non-recognition coalition’, Anatoly Lebedko announced last week that he would create an initiative group to nominate him as a ‘speaker’, rather than a ‘ candidate’ in the presidential election. Such a move could be connected with the coalition’s wish to keep the possibility open to nominate Nikolai Statkevich as presidential candidate. In addition, Lebedko might withdraw from the presidential race, as he did in 2012 – a week before the elections. Another potential candidate from the ‘non-recognition coalition’ is the leader of the ‘Fair World’ leftist party, Sergei Kalyakin – if approved by the party congress. Last week, the organizing committee of the ‘Belarusian Christian Democracy’ party said that they would not nominate their own candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, but would support candidates with similar values and attitudes.
Last week, former leader of the ‘Tell the Truth!’ campaign, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu shed light on his future political plans. He said he was sceptical about nominating himself as a candidate in the next presidential campaign. However, he set up the organising committee to create the movement “for Belarus’ statehood and independence” and revealed plans to hold a street campaign in support for the country’s independence. Nevertheless, it would be premature to exclude Nyaklyaeu’s participation in the election campaign. He might still conclude an agreement with the supporters of the first deputy chairman of the “Belarusian Language Society” Elena Anisim and be nominated from the ‘nationalist’ forces which supported her candidacy. The main issue however is that those supporting the nationalistic agenda speak against participation in the elections in general.
To summarise, three major political agendas have formed ahead of the presidential campaign: traditional political agenda (advocating for changes in the electoral system, political freedoms and prevention of political rights violations), which ultimately seeks to prevent the recognition of the election results by the international community; traditional nationalistic agenda (advocating for independence, national revival, promotion of Belarusian language and culture), which amid Russo-Ukrainian conflict has gained additional popularity; and social agenda, which is relatively new and sets longer-term strategic goals (promoting reforms in education, health, economy and local governance).
It is noteworthy that this year, the democratic forces do not have sufficient funds for running separate presidential campaigns. In addition, for the first time the state will not fund candidates’ campaign materials. All potential candidates intend to use private donations for their campaigns, which will be a challenging task.
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.