Government cuts: risks and opportunities
Cuts in the number of state officials should improve the state apparatus’ controllability. However, the lack of adequate career opportunities for the ones laid off will create tensions among Belarusian officials, which, in turn, could help different political organizations to improve their influence.
On October 12th, the Head of State ordered to set up a commission to work out how to optimize the state apparatus. The Commission was tasked to draft reform proposal before the end of the year.
The state apparatus reform in Belarus is meant to be radical. According to Lukashenko, the reform will reduce the number of public officials by 25-30%. According to 2011 official data, 70,612 people were employed in the public administration, 56,232 of which were state employees (excluding security agencies staff).
The problem with the reform is that in Belarus there is no tradition of a successful transition from the public service in other areas, for example, in business. There are individual cases of successful transit from a high-level position to large and medium businesses, but they only underscore the general lack of career opportunities for the laid off officials, in particular, if the reform aims to free up to 25-30% civil servants.
At this reform stage, the government offered no solutions to this problem, which creates a risk to public authorities. First of all, now a variety of political players in Belarus and abroad have a window of opportunity to campaign and recruit from this circle of experienced and influential people. Namely, from Interior Ministry employees which will be subject to staff cuts in the first place.
It should be anticipated, that Belarusian security services are aware of this problem and will track contacts of retired officials very closely. In the meanwhile, until completed, the government reform itself objectively reduces the stability in the state power and increases the overall political risks in Belarus, which plays into the hands of the law enforcement agencies, especially the KGB.
The Belarusian authorities could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.