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 has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.