Belarusian opposition steps up activity before parliamentary elections
Belarusian opposition parties appear to be more eager to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections due to the absence of harsh repressions by the state and boosted demand for alternative from the population. Meanwhile, the opposition is divided and tension is growing between supporters of protest activity and those standing for full participation in the electoral campaign. The boycott supporters are likely to step up their criticism as the authorities exclude the most determined opposition leaders from the parliamentary race.
The authorities have registered 304 initiative groups of citizens to collect signatures to nominate candidates for deputies to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the sixth convocation.
Currently, there are circa three contenders per seat for 110 seats in the lower house of the parliament and their number is likely to increase by late July. The deadline for nominations expired on July 7th, but district election commissions still have over a hundred of applications to consider from 479 applications to register initiative groups. Compared with the 2012 parliamentary elections, when 440 applications to register initiative groups were filed, there is somewhat more activity during the ongoing parliamentary campaign.
Some opposition activists use two ways to nominate their candidates - by collecting more than 1000 signatures per candidate and political party nomination. Since many organisations have departed from the idea of the boycott, they are more active in the ongoing parliamentary campaign. For instance, political parties (mainly oppositional) have already registered 103 initiative groups, which is triple of those registered in the 2008 parliamentary elections (66 groups).
That said, the Belarusian Popular Front and Fair World leftist party previously declared they would nominate 80 and 60 candidates respectively. In addition, pro-governmental Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus (LDPB) said it would nominate candidates to each of the 110 constituencies.
Pro-governmental candidates also use both ways to nominate their candidates, but more often - collect signatures. In addition, they nominate candidates from labour collectives. Like the opposition, nominees from the authorities collect signatures to have an additional propaganda opportunity and gain support among the population. Moreover, they have the opportunity to work with labour collectives, which is out of the question for the opposition.
Simultaneously, tension has been growing in the Belarusian opposition between supporters of protest activities and those supporting participation in the election campaign. Former political prisoner Nikolai Statkevich said he might withdraw all the candidates of the Belarusian National Congress (26 initiative groups) from the race if his initiative group was not registered.
Some democratic organisations, such as REP trade union, have already announced their refusal to participate in the elections. Most likely, participants in the Congress, led by Statkevich will be forced to leave the parliamentary race and will de facto boycott the elections. In addition, as these supporters of protest activity are refusing to participate in the elections, they are likely to toughen the rhetoric against their former partners in the opposition. Other political parties, however, are determined to participate in the ongoing parliamentary campaign in full.
In addition, the opposition is planning to carry out election observation, which will require many activists, who will be unable to participate in the campaigning. For instance, the "Right of Choice" campaign includes virtually all major party structures, which nominate their candidates.
Most likely, after the Congresses in mid-July, the number of nominees from political parties to the parliamentary elections may double. The authorities, however, may take a harsh stance on registering the most critical opposition candidates.
Image: Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections
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.