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 Labour and the Tax Ministries are considering the possibility to include persons engaged in some economic activity without forming a legal entity in the social security system. When the decree No 337 comes into effect, the number of private entrepreneurs is likely to reduce due to the possibility of reducing the tax burden when switching to a tax payment as an individual. 95% of self-employed, including PE, pay insurance premiums on the basis of the minimum wage. The number of self-employed citizens is expected to increase, the number of insurance contributions to the pension system from PE will decrease, the number of citizens who will pay a fee to finance government spending will decrease by several tens. Self-employed citizens have the alternative not to pay social security fees and save resources for future pensions, which, given the gradual restriction by the state of pension requirements could be a more long-sighted option.