Spending on social benefits is cut, but law enforcement budget increases
The government has continued to cut social benefit in an effort to preserve the existing socio-economic model, albeit somewhat curtailed. Simultaneously, expenditure on law enforcement has been scaled up, suggesting that the 2015 election campaign might follow a harsh scenario.
The House of Representatives approved. a bill introducing a fee for using private vehicles. Recently the government has come up with a bizarre assortment of initiatives to replenish the state budget, but most of them have not been implemented. The authorities used these initiatives to draw people’s attention away from real measures, which pick into people’s pockets and reduce social benefits.
For example, earlier in 2013, Prime Minister Myasnikovich proposed to tax the unemployed, and President Alexander Lukashenko proposed a $100 ‘exit’ fee. These initiatives were disavowed following reactions in society. An independent sociological poll by the Andrei Vardomatski Belarusian Analytical Workroom suggested that about 75% of Belarusians had heard about the $100 ‘exit’ fee initiative, of which 55% were against it. It is worth noting that such bizarre initiatives often have not been voiced by Lukashenko, but by other public officials. Lukashenko wants to avoid a negative impact on his approval rating before the elections.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities followed through with certain unusual initiatives. Some tax alterations and amendments which affect various social groups were introduced without any public debate.
For example, the government will introduce a fee for using private vehicles. As of 2014, a recycling fee for imported foreign cars and import tax for corporations will be introduced; rental-housing tax will be increased by 12.7%. In addition, the Belarusian authorities will raise tariffs on goods and services subsidized from the state budget.
The government will also reduce social benefits. The 2014 draft budget envisages budget cuts for culture and education. Simultaneously, the draft budget envisages more spending on law enforcement, suggesting that the authorities are concerned about a potential rise of social tensions ahead of the presidential campaign.
It is worth noting that the 2014 socio-economic development plan envisages lay-offs for 70,000 workers. Recently, Minsk Tractor Plant and Minsk Automobile Plant management curtailed production and considerably cut workers’ wages. This trend can be traced to the regions: Mogilevkhimvolokno, one of the largest regional enterprises, plans to lay off 30% of its employees.
Evidently, Lukashenko has limited opportunities to buy people’s loyalty with pay rises and social benefits, so he is counting on law enforcement to ensure social stability. In short, the authorities plan to preserve the existing socio-economic model at the cost of some population groups.
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.