Falling trust in Belarusian authorities comes with lower ratings of opposition
Amid falling ratings of the state and public institutions, the Belarusian society has demonstrated high adaptability and dropped its paternalistic demands vis-a-vis the state. Yet the opposition has been unable to popularise alternative vision of socio-economic reforms and boost its ratings in society. In the near future, social tension in society is unlikely to transform into open protest activity.
According to the IISEPS nationwide poll, President Lukashenka’s electoral rating declined in March 2016.
It is becoming harder for the Belarusian authorities to weasel out of liability for socio-economic failures and blame external factors for them. According to an independent poll, the population equally blames the Belarusian government (48%) and the president (47%) for the deteriorated situation in the country. In his public statements, President Lukashenka has not attempted to shift the responsibility exclusively on Kobyakov’s government, which is unlikely to be replaced in the near future.
Starting from the post-election period in late 2015, President Lukashenka’s electoral rating has been consistently falling. In September 2015, 45.7% of Belarusians would vote for him, in December 2015 - 33.3% and in March 2016 - only 27.3%. However, the president’s popularity has not dropped below that in 2002 (26.4%) and during the crisis of 2011 (20.5%).
The president is likely to have lost support among his traditional voters. His previous paternalistic policy had allowed him to count on the loyalty of broad socially vulnerable groups. However, now these groups, more than others, are beginning to feel the effects of the state opting out of social protection in the pension system and healthcare services, and cutting subsidies on public transport and utilities.
In recent months, due to the new social policy, tension among pensioners has been growing. Previously politically inactive pensioners are now insisting on resumption of social guarantees.
Besides filing legal petitions to the authorities, pensioners are starting to participate and organize unauthorized demonstrations to support their demands.
That said, independent pollsters have noted the general trend towards reduction of social requirements vis-a-vis the state regarding social guarantees. Yet the state has not made efforts to ensure support among new electoral groups with lower paternalistic expectations. Most likely, the Belarusian authorities want to wait out the crisis and hope that Russian economy recovers and that the Belarusian economy would follow.
The falling trust in public institutions has not improved ratings of opposition leaders and parties, rather the opposite - their popularity has slumped. For instance, amid reduced presidential electoral rating, rating of the only opposition candidate in the 2015 elections Tatiana Karatkevich has fallen to 6.9%. Incidentally, this trend is typical for post-election Belarus.
Amid lifted sanctions against the Belarusian authorities by the EU and some fatigue from the conflict in Ukraine, pro-European moods in society have somewhat recovered. As for Russia, 26% of Belarusians think she will help to overcome economic recession in Belarus, while the majority is against Belarus’ unification with Russia into one state - 52.4%.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to restrict communication opportunities for opposition candidates during the parliamentary elections, especially if their popularity starts growing along with citizens’ protest activity. Regardless of the public demand for changes, the authorities are unlikely to reform the existing socio-economic model without significant protest pressure from society.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.