The ruling group is strengthening control over assets which it considers important

April 22, 2016 18:20

Financial instability increases political risks and forces Lukashenko’s entourage to strengthen control over the property in the country. In practice this means the abandonment of the project ‘liberalization’, which was carried out in Belarus in 2008 – 2010.

On October 25th, President Lukashenko demanded to improve management efficiency at enterprises with sate shares.

A meeting at Presidential Administration concerning measures to improve the public shares management aimed to strengthen and foster the “success” from the partial re-privatization of Kommunarka and Spartak confectioneries. In particular, Lukashenko criticized the supervisory boards’ actions at enterprises with mixed ownership, which give “away all of the major decisions at Director’s mercy”, rather than securing public interests.

During the meeting it was proposed that the chairman of the supervisory board in a company with state shares (where the number of employees is 15 000 and higher) should be appointed by the President, i.e. he/she should not be subordinated to the investor. Earlier Lukashenko issued Decree № 8, allowing the Presidential Administration to issue additional shares at so-called strategic enterprises.

If these measures are implemented, the government will retain control over the most important public companies, even without the controlling shares. In a way it means that a so called ‘golden share’ rule, abolished in March 2008, is being resurrected. Instead, a ‘Golden Chairman of the Board’ rule could be introduced.

Simultaneously with the adoption of these unpopular among Belarusian nomenclature and business measures, the President reinforces populist patriotic rhetoric. On October 26th, took place a scathing meeting to discuss the Belarusian Olympic team performance in London, where the head of state suggested the Minister of Sport and Tourism, the Presidential Aide for Sport and the two Vice-Chairman of the National Olympic Committee to resign.

In populist terms, these measures look advantageously: both, the seizure of confectioneries from ‘oligarch bloodsuckers’ and returning them back to children, as well as restoring order among the gray mass of corrupt officials. However, for the successful mobilization of the state apparatus President Lukashenko needs to have the mass support of the population. Recent opinion polls show that today the President’s popularity is very low (30%), and that pure populist rhetoric fails to improve it.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.