Belarusian society showing signs of fatigue given the long rule of President Alexander Lukashenko
According to the Central Election Commission, 14 individuals submitted applications to register initiative groups nominating candidates for presidency.
The fatigue from 21 years of President Alexander Lukashenko’s leadership of the country along with his socio-economic policies is growing in Belarusian society. Half of the nominees who submitted their applications to register initiative groups have no experience in politics, do not belong to any political faction, stress their loyalty to the incumbent president or are in favour of the gradual transformation of the Belarusian regime. It is doubtful that the authorities will register initiative groups of exotic nominees, or that they will allow them to progress to the subsequent stages of signature’ collection necessary for nomination as candidates.
Of the 14 candidates for presidency who submitted applications to register their initiative groups, only 8 have experience in politics or represent a political faction. Moreover, several exotic nominees did not manage to submit documents to the CEC or refused to do so at the last moment. At the same time, a record number of potential female candidates – a record number for Belarus – submitted applications for registration – 4 initiative groups.
Society’s dismissal of the possibility to change the incumbent head of state through the elections as well as a lack of alternative candidates with significant political capital have led to a parade of ‘random’ and exotic candidates. Nominees, previously unknown in politics, often choose not to conceal their lack of seriousness regarding their intentions in terms of participation in the presidential campaign. Some of those who have declared their willingness to run for presidency use it as gifted opportunity to attract the attention of the media to their person or business.
Besides, some independent nominees do not consider themselves a part of the opposition and most often declare their loyalty to the incumbent president. Yet it is noteworthy that they independently point to the fatigue induced by more than 20 years that Alexander Lukashenko has been the head of the Belarusian state. Some of the candidates are sympathetic towards the opposition but are in favour of gradual transformation of the Belarusian regime with a guarantee that there will be no grounds for the prosecution of the incumbent leadership of the country. Virtually all the ‘random’ candidates have insufficient human capital to collect the 100 thousand signatures required for registration. And some of them do not even have the necessary minimum number of members to register an initiative group.
Notable is the nomination of the chairman of the pro-governmental Belarusian Patriotic Party and the leader of the public association ‘Belarusian Cossacks’ Nikolay Ulakhovich. According to statements, documented in the media, made by Nikolay Ulakhovich, he is not going to compete with President Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential elections but is going to support the latter in the election campaign. So far ‘the Belarusian Cossacks’ have not made their presence felt in public politics, and the Belarusian Patriotic Party has not taken any noticeable part in either local or parliamentary elections.
In all likelihood, the nomination of Nikolay Ulakhovich is triggered by the need to increase his political clout to control the entire Cossack movement in Belarus. Most likely, after the events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities are concerned about the activisation of paramilitary Cossack units in Belarus that sympathise with the Kremlin. Moreover, the initiative group nominating Nikolay Ulakhovich comprises more than 1 thousand people, which will allow him to successfully complete the phase of collecting 100 thousand signatures and become registered as a candidate, given the support of the authorities.
The authorities have been cautious as regards the next ‘parade of candidates’ and have announced that there would be a limit to the number of participants in the presidential campaign. As stated by the chairman of the Central Election Commission Lydia Yarmoshina, several initiative groups of candidates for presidency that submitted documents stand a chance of being registered early next week: ‘We will know the number on Monday. At this stage, I envisage that only five people will be successful’.
Thus, the authorities are most likely to register candidates for presidency which represent ‘titular opposition’ who have made their presence in politics felt and whose actions are predictable. At the same time, registration of a few candidates loyal to the authorities cannot be ruled out, as this will demonstrate pluralism and potentially counteract actions of the opposition. .
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.