Instability in Belarusians’ economic well-being directly affects President’s ratings
A national survey conducted in July by the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies has shown a slower growth in public optimism. The President’s electoral rating has declined; however, there is no rise in protest moods.
Alexander Lukashenko’s fourth term in office is characterised by significant changes in public moods. In comparison to the previous term, fluctuations in the Belarusian people’s economic situations immediately affect the President’s rating and level of trust toward state bodies. However, such instability of public opinion does not influence the Belarusian people’s protest potential and presents no threat to the state order.
In contrast to Aleksander Lukashenko’s third term in office in 2006-2010, when his rating was about 40%, since 2010 the Belarusian leader has much less support from his voters. According to a survey carried out by IISEPS in June, only 29.7% of the respondents are ready to cast their votes for Lukashenko, while in March 2012, the electorate’s support equaled 34.5% (in December 2011 - 24.9%).
The most likely reason for this decline is the worsening of the economic well-being of citizens: in June, only 12.8% of the interviewees noted an improvement in their financial situation compared to 15.3% in March 2012.
However, sociological surveys do not register any rise in the popularity of alternative politicians or increased protest moods among society.
According to the same poll, the electoral rankings of Andrei Sannikau and Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu are 6.8% and 6.1% respectively, which is more likely explained by the inertial effects (After his release from prison in April 2012, Sannikau withdrew from public policy). The number of people who associate themselves with the opposition is at the usual level of 19.2% (against 22.6% in December 2011)
On the one hand, these figures prove a well-known opinion that despite expectations of changes, the majority of the Belarusian people do not see an alternative candidate among the opposition politicians. Consequently, they are not ready to participate in protest campaigns, for example, in street actions.
On the other hand, the link between the fluctuations in citizens’ economic well-being and the level of trust toward state bodies proves the opinion that after the 2011 financial crisis, the Belarusian authorities have only one effective tool to maintain and enhance people’s loyalty: to constantly increase welfare.
In such an unstable situation it should be expected that even a minor inflation hike or delay in wage or pension payment will lead to a further decline of public trust toward the authorities.
During 2011, several labour collectives at major Belarusian companies staged protests and as a result, their salaries were increased. If there is a new wave of economic crisis, these non –political protests are highly likely to occur again. Thus, if the Belarusian authorities fail to find funds to increase salaries quickly, social protests might theoretically grow into something bigger.
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.