Lukashenko resumes populist rhetoric to keep up his approval rating
While talking to BelAZ employees last week, Alexander Lukashenko mentioned government plans to substantially increase support for families. Once again, he promised that there would not be a rise in prices and housing and communal services tariffs.
Two years ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign, Lukashenko has resumed his populist rhetoric. Following some controversial initiatives aimed at picking citizens’ pockets, he has started making populist statements to keep up his electoral rating. As the government cannot provide social guarantees ‘for all’, the president will focus his efforts on winning the loyalty of certain social groups.
Lukashenko’s return to populist rhetoric is mainly linked with the need to introduce positive alternatives to public opinion, in the face of growing expectations of an economic crisis and the impending presidential elections. (While IISEPS polls show a small climb in the president’s electoral rating in 2013, hitting 42.6% in September, his approval rating nevertheless remains low in comparison with this stage in previous election campaigns) .
In recent months, the Belarusian authorities have proposed a range of unpopular measures to reduce the state’s social guarantees. Some were used to create information pollution and additional room for manoeuvre for Lukashenko.
Alexander Lukashenko will use the government’s action to reduce spending on social benefits in his own game, and will shift the responsibility to the government officials. Right before the launch of the presidential campaign, he will ‘win back’ some social benefits and improve his approval rating.
The authorities can no longer use their old ways of improving their approval rating, e.g. increase social benefits to the entire population on the eve of the elections. Lukashenko considers focusing on implementing some of the most popular social projects. This means narrowing the welfare state even more and shutting down inefficient government programmes.
Lukashenko has effectively stopped talking about modernization, which means the modernization programme had failed and the enterprises’ modernization plans to be reduced.
Freed-up funds may be spent on new campaign projects, e.g. the ‘Big Family’ programme. This initiative is aimed at young families and suggests introducing a so-called ‘mother’s capital’ in Belarus which will help Lukashenko to improve his approval rating among this social group by 2015. Also, a new Demographic Security Programme will be approved in 2015.
The new social programmes declared by Lukashenko, imply that the welfare state will be narrowed even more. The authorities lack resources to provide social guarantees ‘for all’ and will take populist decisions to win the loyalty of certain social groups in the view of the upcoming elections.
According to Belstat, in August 7,600 people were dismissed, including 4,800 civil servants. Dismissals of civil servants were due to the optimisation in the public administration by up to 30%. Some civil servants would retain their job however would lose the status of a civil servant. Vacancies on the labour market are likely to reduce in number, thanks to the optimisation, the state administration would increase wages for public servants. The payroll fund for retained employees is likely to increase and some former state employees are likely to get jobs in affiliated organizations. The optimisation of the state apparatus should complete by January 1st, 2018, and some former civil servants are likely to join the ranks of the unemployed.