Presidential elections threaten the countrys economic stability
On July 4th, the Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies published the quarterly opinion polls results. The survey engaged 1,513 respondents 18 years and older, representation error does not exceed 0.03.
Improved President Lukashenko’s electoral rating requires the government to increase expenditure significantly to raise voter’s incomes. This task creates an additional risk to the country’s economic stability and increases dependence of the state on external funding.
The polls demonstrated that President Lukashenko’s electoral rating increased to 37.3% (in March it was 33.4%). Respondents, whose financial situation has deteriorated, declined to 21.6% from 28.7% in March. The share of respondents with improved financial situation remained unchanged at 13.7%. Financial situation has not changed for a larger group - 63.1% against 56.4% in March.
The poll suggests there is an important peculiarity in how the living standards grow in Belarus: people’s incomes do not increase evenly, but only in government priority sectors. For example, in January-May, real wages in the health sector, in annual terms, increased by 5.3%, and in the construction sector - by 39.9%. Therefore, the overall 22% increase in real incomes in the whole country since early 2013 remains largely unnoticed by the population. Accordingly, the president’s electoral rating is growing slower than before.
It should also be noted that Lukashenko’s electoral rating dynamics during his current 4th presidential term clearly differs from previous years. For example, in 2003-2004 (presidential election in 2006), population’s real incomes grew by 4% and 10% respectively, while president’s electoral rating rose from 29% to 39%. In 2012-2013 (presidential election in 2015) voters’ real incomes increased by 21% and 22%, respectively, but Lukashenko’s rating rose from 32% to 37%.
This comparison shows that currently the ruling group needs more resources than before to buy votes. In 2006-2010 Lukashenko’s electoral rating according to IISEPS was comfortable 40 %, which allowed ‘to buy’ the remaining supporters during the election year and ensure support by the majority of voters.
Clearly, if incomes continue growing at this pace, times faster than productivity growth, in the coming two years additional risks to macroeconomic stability in Belarus will be created and the state will become increasingly more dependent on external funding sources. Decreased production reduces chances to find the necessary funds inside the country.
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.