President Lukashenko’s support is high, but Belarusians request change either way

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April 22, 2016 18:49

For a considerable part of the electorate, President Lukashenko remains a guarantor of stability. But despite electoral support for the opposition being in decline, many see the “People’s Referendum” initiative as an alternative which could bring changes. If the democratic forces manage to agree on a single candidate who is able to propose a clear vision with a long-term strategy for reforming the country, his/her rating could vie with that of Lukashenko.

According to the March national poll by IISEPS, Lukashenko’s electoral rating reached 39.8%.

Using traditional rhetoric against the backdrop of events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities have succeeded in attributing Belarus’ stability to President Lukashenko.

Nevertheless, despite his rise in popularity, Lukashenko cannot consolidate Belarusian society, which is increasingly aware of the socio-economic model’s failures and of their president’s inability to make management in the public sector more efficient. President Lukashenko’s frequent visits to regional enterprises and threats to prosecute for mismanagement have neither pushed managers to act, nor improved the quality of their work. Meanwhile, with social guarantees and incomes in a downward spiral, people are discontent with the state policy.

The “People’s Referendum” project meets the population’s wishes, and new approaches to working with the electorate within the project have yielded results. Almost half (49%) of the respondents said they were willing to give their signature in support of the People’s Referendum.

Many Belarusians are demanding change and an alternative to President Lukashenko. 40.9% of respondents support the nomination of a single opposition candidate - more than the combined rating of the opposition parties and leaders. For example, the most popular opposition leader, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu of “Tell the Truth!”, has 7% of popular support and has not seen changes in his rating for months. A single presidential candidate from the democratic opposition would consolidate the protest-minded electorate and significantly increase her/his rating before the 2015 presidential campaign.

But chances of the opposition uniting are low, as their hopes for political change in 2015 have diminished, and, as in the past, they are torn apart by mutual distrust. In addition, the single candidate from the democratic forces would be tasked with delivering a clear statement about her/his vision of possible changes in the Belarusian society.

The ‘Euromaidan’ scenario in Belarus is no longer attractive for a large part of the protest-minded electorate. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and her attempts to destabilise South-East Ukraine have triggered a broad debate within the Belarusian opposition. Various opposition groups are attempting to reach a common standpoint on how to preserve the geopolitical balance as well as Belarus’ sovereignty during democratic transformation.

Demand for a new national leader will rise as long as the current economic model continues to fall apart. Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities will keep Lukashenko’s electoral rating at an acceptable level until the presidential campaign starts in 2015. Despite the slim chances of an opposition candidate winning the 2015 elections, her/his nomination by the democratic forces could consolidate protest voters and reduce threats to stability in the country.

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The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.

Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.

Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.

In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.

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