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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.