Regaining Trust is Becoming the Main Political Issue for Lukashenko
According to the national survey conducted by IISEPS in December, the presidential electoral rating amounted to 31.5% and did not change much since June 2012. 1,500 respondents aged 18 and older were surveyed, with a sample error not exceeding 3 %.
A stop in the growth of the electoral rating of president Lukashenko reinforces a dangerous trend for the country’s leadership, namely, voters no longer positively respond to how the government fulfill its promises to improve the standards of living of the population. Thus, for the next two years, the main internal political problem for the ruling group will be to regain people’s trust.
IISEPS’ December survey proved the previously noted downward trend of the electoral rating of Alexander Lukashenko against the growth of people’s incomes. Thus, according to official figures, real wages in January-November increased by 20.6% as compared to the same period in 2011 and almost reached the equivalent of USD 500 which had been promised by the president. Despite this, people’s willingness to vote for the acting president in the elections remains at 31%, and ,what is most important, has remained unchanged since the middle of summer 2012, accounting to 29.7% in June and 31.6% in September.
It has been the first time that we have observed such a long-lasting low rating of Lukashenko. During his third term as president from 2006 to 2012, his rating amounted to 40% which allowed the authorities “to buy” the required majority of 50% of the electorate by boosting the economy in the year of elections. Also, it gave electoral commissions an unwritten right to present “the right” results of the election. Therefore, although the ruling group has managed to fulfill their main election promise to increase an average salary to USD 500, it has failed to solve a serious problem, namely, to regain citizens’ trust.
A freeze in Lukashenko’s electoral rating has, as usual, not led to a growth in protest moods among the population and the growth of sympathy to other political actors. On the contrary, the majority of respondents (34.1%) behave conservatively and are reliant on president in their hopes that Belarus will overcome the economic crises, while only 8.6% pin their hopes on the actions of the opposition. If this conservative trend continues, it will most likely lead to a situation where the main problem of the next presidential election in 2015 will be not a "social explosion" in the form of mass protests, but a very low voting turnout , as it was the case during the parliamentary campaign of 2012.
It is probable that the low level of people’s trust in the country’s leadership reflects the situation within the state administration. This, in particular, can be proved by a notorious scandal with a failure of the state program for the modernization of wood-processing industry, a tragic suicide of a KGB officer, as well as information leaks, rumours and provocations. One of the last provocations was about an upcoming devaluation of the Belarusian ruble up to BYR 14 340 for USD 1 starting from January, 8. The information about it was allegedly sent out from the phone number of the National Bank to a few thousand users of Belarusian mobile operators.
In response to these societal challenges, president Lukashenko will have to strengthen the populist rhetoric. In particular, during the New Year’s television address to the nation, Lukashenko first time made his speech with family photos in the background. Previously, and also for the first time, his two sons Victor and Dmitry were shown in New Year TV programs together with their families. Also, at the end of December, for the first time since 2004, a deputies’ group lead by deputy Ivanchenko, a former president’s aide, established in the parliament. The group consists of 21 members and they have already started working visits to the regions.
It should be noted that such populist measures could bring a positive effect only if people’s incomes significantly increase. Therefore, it can be expected that the authorities will not give up the plan of economic growth by +8,5% in 2013 which had been accepted in autumn. They will step up efforts to seek financing abroad.
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.