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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.