Lukashenko's ratings have stabilised at a historical low

April 22, 2016 18:21

President Lukashenko’s electoral rating stopped growing, despite some improvements in the economic situation in Belarus. This state of affairs increases risks for the current authorities in the 2015 presidential campaign and opens new opportunities for other players.

On October 21st, Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies presented the results of the quarterly Belarusian public opinion poll. 1502 persons were interviewed; sampling error is not more than 0.03.

The main peculiarity in the current socio-political situation in Belarus is the incoherence between the people’s economic expectations and their willingness to vote for Lukashenka (i.e. to support the current government). In September, the number of people, whose financial situation has deteriorated over the past three months, decreased by 7 percentage points to 25% from 31.9% in June (in December 2011 it came to 59.8%). However, Lukashenko’s electoral rating has increased only by 1.9 percentage points, which lies within a statistical error.

Lukahenko’s electoral rating, %

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Arguably, during his fourth Presidential term (2010-2015), Lukashenko’s rating stabilized at historically low 30%. Moreover, Belarusians’ willingness to vote for Lukashenko no longer depends on the consistent wages and pensions increases, as before. Belarusians are more pessimistic about their future well-being: 27.8% believe that the economic situation in Belarus will deteriorate in the coming years, and only 18.4% hope for improvement (against 21.4% in June).

In these circumstances, the authorities are forced to adhere to the usual policy: raise populism and continue increasing wages and pensions, regardless of the “electoral investment’s” decreased efficiency. In the meanwhile, many assess that the authorities’ reserves to maintain, let alone improve the population’s living standards are particularly scarce. Therefore, various political and shadow players, including the opposition, have real opportunities to apply substantial pressure on the authorities before the presidential election campaign starts in 2015.

First of all, law enforcement representatives should be included into the shady players, particularly those who enjoy high fidelity of President Lukashenko: it is in their objective interests to preserve economic risks in the country to retain their status. Secondly, nomenklatura, which concentrated around “Belaya Rus” quango, aiming to preserve their positions, gained in 2000s. At last, the Belarusian opposition, who operate mainly in the spirit of the 90s paradigms, and only now start determining their action plan for the next political campaign.

Paradoxically, in the existing balance of power, Alexander Lukashenko is the only interested party in increasing his ratings and electoral popularity. All other conventional players are interested in preserving his weakened legitimacy as the President, which provides them with a leverage to achieve their goals. Developments after the 2010 Presidential election showed that Lukashenko himself is likely to count on the security forces, even if it is detrimental to all other interest groups.

In addition, opinion poll results concerning the turnout during the last parliamentary elections are worth mentioning. According to sociologists, the turnout in the country was 66.4% (44% in Minsk); elections were boycotted by 9.6% (18.9% in Minsk). As anticipated, these data have been criticized by politicians who participated in the various boycott campaigns.

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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.