Lukashenko resumes populist rhetoric to keep up his approval rating

April 22, 2016 18:38

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. 

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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.