Pre-elections polls in Belarus: loyalty to president, disloyalty to state institutions

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April 22, 2016 19:16

Last week, IISEPS presented June 2015 national poll results, which demonstrated that despite the fact that the overall social pre-election environment was favourable for Lukashenka’s re-election, the risk of an economic crisis would heighten by the end of the campaign. Amid growing popular support for the president, trust in public institutions, including the financial bodies, continued to diminish. The authorities seem to underestimate social risks, which could destabilise the election campaign. 

June 2015 national poll results have turned out quite positive for Lukashenka’s electoral prospects. His electoral ratings have grown compared with March 2015 from 34.2% to 38.6% in June 2015. Simultaneously, the proportion of electorate unwilling to vote neither for Lukashenka, nor for a democratic candidate, has grown too – from 21% to 27%. Other candidates’ ratings are as follows: Statkevich - 6.5%, Nyaklyaeu - 5.7%, Lebedko - 5.4%, Gaydukevich - 5.4%, Kalyakin - 4.4%, Prushinskiy - 2.6%, Anisim - 2.4%, and Karatkevich - 2.2%. The ratings of all possible alternative candidates have somewhat grown since March 2015, except Nyaklyaeu. In addition, the polls have drawn out the electoral environment’s polarisation, which is characteristic of Belarus. 

Amid 72% of the population believing that the Belarusian economy is in a recession, the overall economic well-being of Belarusians has slightly improved. Compared with March 2015 (46.3%), in June 2015 37.2% of respondents said their financial situation had deteriorated, while 9% said it ‘has not changed’ and 51.3% that it ‘has improved’ (44% in March 2015). The average income per household member (including wages, pensions, benefits, etc.) has increased from USD 211 in March 2015 to USD 240 in June 2015. 

Hierarchy of economic fears of the population in June 2015 included price-hikes - 76.9%, unemployment - 55.8%, production decline - 55.8%, and impoverishment - 49.3% (84.1%, 47.2%, 50.3%, 46.8% in March 2015, accordingly). 

Voters’ attitudes towards almost all public institutions have remained negative. They have assessed officials currently in power as "people concerned only about their well-being and career" - 38.6%, and as "a good team of politicians leading the country in the right direction” - 14.4%. Regarding the fight against corruption in Belarus, 27.8% believe that Lukashenka will win the fight, 22.8% - that Lukashenka largely depends on corrupt officials, and 15.9% - that Lukashenka is "in some way interested in it”. 55.3% believe that the president primarily relies on the military, police, and the KGB; 48.8% - on the president’s executive "vertical"; 39.3% - on government officials; 36.6% - on pensioners; 24.6% - on rural population; and 17.4% - on ordinary people. 

Amid Belarusians being highly sceptical towards public institutions, their economic expectations bear the highest risks for social stability in the country. In June 2015, 36.5% (33.6% in March) of respondents anticipated the economic situation to deteriorate, 21.7% (23.1%) – to improve and 36% - to remain unchanged. 34.6% of Belarusians believe, that "the whole situation in our country is developing in the right direction", while 49.4% believe it has taken the wrong direction (in March 2015 the ratio was 36.9% v 45.8%). Over 80% of the population anticipates a new devaluation of the Belarusian rouble in the coming months (72% in September 2013): 34.1% believe it is a real threat, and 46.5% - a potential one. 

Albeit Belarusian pre-election social landscape appears relatively stable, it carries some risks. Firstly, high devaluation expectations, which in certain circumstances, coupled with low loyalty to public institutions and exaggerated anti-corruption moods may provoke financial and social crises. These sentiments are likely to manifest immediately after the elections, however, there are no guarantees it may not happen earlier, i.e. before the elections.

 

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.