Opinion polls: stable pessimism and growing presidents popularity
On March 29th, Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies published March opinion polls results in Belarus. 1513 Belarusians were interviewed, statistical error is not more than 3%.
President Lukashenko’s rating started growing slowly amid preserved dissatisfaction with the quality of life in the society. The prevailing attitudes towards the authorities’ main strategic project - economic modernization - remain pessimistic, and a high level of mistrust determines the population’s negative attitude to open political protests.
The polls recorded a slight drop in the economic well-being index of Belarusians in the Q1 2013, which could be explained by 8% drop in average salaries in early 2013 amid sharp 11% increase in wages in December 2012.
In particular, “economic pessimism” has increased: those who noted deterioration of their financial situation increased from 26.7% to 28.7%. Conversely, the “economic optimists’” share has decreased from 17.4% in December to 13.3% in March. Compared with 2010 (the last presidential election year), 36.7% of the respondents said their life quality had deteriorated, 48.4% saw no change, and 12.2% reported an improvement.
A similar pessimism is relevant regarding the President Lukashenko’s statement in late 2012 about Belarus’ economic modernization. One-third believes in effective use of modernization funds, 28.1% believe that these funds will be stolen. At the same time, only 35.4% believe in technological breakthrough in Belarus’ economy in the next 10 years, and over 40% doubt it.
However, against this negative background President Lukashenko managed to slightly improve his popularity. Firstly, the confidence rating has increased: share of those trusting the president has increased from 39.1% in December 2012 to 43.4% in March 2013, and the share of disloyal decreased from 49.1% to 43.2%. Secondly, Lukashenko’s electoral rating improved from 31.5% in December to 33.4% in March. Lukashenko’s average electoral rating between elections is around 40-42%.
Willingness of Belarusians to organize and participate in open protests against the state policy is still low. In particular, the level of mutual distrust in Belarus remains high - 70% believe they should be very cautious in relationships with other people. Prior to the 2010 presidential elections the proportion was 72.2%.
Mutual distrust’s high levels atomize the society and determine Belarusians’ negative attitude to the traditional “agents of change”: 60.9% do not trust the opposition parties against trusting 13.1%. Opposition leaders’ electoral ratings do not exceed 5.1% (Nyaklyaeu), 2.8% (Sannikov and Milinkevich). Finally, 75.9% of respondents say that they are not ready to increase their participation in politics.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.