Changes in the housing ownership rules: political opportunities for opposition and President
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.
During searches of social and "green" activists and anarchists, law enforcement has seized computers, mobile phones and publications. The authorities have also exerted additional pressure on supporters of unauthorized street protests and independent lawyers, who represented defendants in the White Legion case. The security services have stepped up the persecution of opponents before the street protests announced by the opposition. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities aspire that participants in street protests would reduce in number and that the low interest of the population to socio-political agenda before the local election campaign would retain.