Government freezes pay rises until after presidential campaign kicks off
Gas, electricity and thermal energy for heating and hot water have gone up in Belarus.
The government has no resources to maintain the growth in social well-being. The Belarusian authorities have made some unpopular decisions, aspiring to balance out the economy before the 2015 election campaign. The Belarusian government accumulates resources to resume its populist politics when presidential campaign starts.
In 2013, gas, electricity and thermal energy tariffs increased 7 times. Retail prices on some cigarettes and some ‘socially important goods’ went up too. Some items were excluded from lists of ‘socially important goods’. Railway tariffs also increased substantially.
In 2013, President Alexander Lukashenko managed to bump up his approval rating to 42.6%, mainly due to pay rises in January -August 2013 by 18.8 %. Such a popular rating growth would be good during the presidential campaign. However the authorities are unable to keep up with such pace of welfare growth in the coming year and a half. Back in summer 2013 Minsk City Executive Committee Chairman Ladutko said, that “we have already reached the maximum average level in Minsk”. And Finance Minister Yermolovich said that economic imbalances in 2013 increased due to unjustified wage growth.
Meanwhile, the government cannot allow a repeat of the devaluation and currency crisis of 2011, which caused the president’s approval rating to fall to a historic low of 20.5%. However, Economy Minister Nikolai Snapkou has virtually confirmed the World Bank’s assessment that the 2011 economic crisis might repeat itself: “Their assessment is natural, based on the figures that they see. But the probability of a crisis is excluded”.
The authorities are trying to choose the lesser of two evils and pick citizens’ pockets using less painful means, i.e. by raising prices by 2-3 % each quarter, not by 30% at once. The government also searches for other the least conflicting options to replenish the budget. For example, the government daily Sovetskaya Belorussia recently published a proposal by some state experts to introduce a vehicle tax in Belarus, which would include ‘an environmental tax and a parking tax’.
In the near future the government will limit the growth in the population’s well-being in order to balance out the economy. Citizens’ pockets will be picked using means that will not stir up open outrage. Meanwhile, the authorities will propose scandalous initiatives to divert public attention from what is really happening.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.