Changes in the housing ownership rules: political opportunities for opposition and President

April 22, 2016 18:31

On May 17th, Housing Minister Andrei Shorets reported to MPs about a new decree on housing ownership reform to be signed in the near future.

The news about the revision of housing ownership rules create a clear economic discomfort for residents who have not yet privatized their apartments. Simultaneously, the reform creates favourable conditions for some political actors who may improve their popularity while fighting against such threat. 

According to the Minister, the new rules will introduce lease payments for the use of non-privatized apartments, where residents lived on lease agreements yet since the Soviet era. Such residents will have two options: either to pay the rent, or to privatize their property in the course of a year, alternatively, the apartments will become social housing without the privatization right.

If adopted, this decree may affect the interests of about 392,000 owners of non-privatized apartments, or about 14% of the Belarus’ total housing volume or about 6% of the electorate without taking into account close relatives. Experts estimate, that the privatization costs will be USD 300-400 per square meter.

Whether passed or not, the information about his decree creates favorable conditions for the political players – for the opposition and the government - to protect the interests of the citizens affected by the project. In particular, in the beginning of April, the Party of Freedom and Progress organizing committee came up with an initiative with a number of proposals to the government. However, it should be recognized that this draft decree has not yet attracted significant attention of the opposition.

Paradoxically, President Lukashenko might also criticize this Decree. Protection of the social rights of voters, duet to anti-liberal considerations, is his conventional tactics and is particularly relevant in light of the upcoming elections. In particular, previously Lukashenko sharply criticized some ‘liberal’ initiatives of Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Tozik aiming at eliminating shadow employment.

Therefore, the probability is high that the Ministry of Housing and Public Utilities will be criticized for the ‘anti-people attitude’, simultaneously allowing the President to reconsider staffing policy at this public body.

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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.