Viktor Lukashenko’s informal leadership in Security Council strengthens

April 22, 2016 18:42

Appointment of Mezhuev as Security Council State Secretary implies that the agency and its leader have lost their footing in the Belarusian power hierarchy. The real authority to coordinate the law enforcement agencies has been assigned to President’s Assistant for National Security Viktor Lukashenko. If the socio-economic situation deteriorates, State Secretary Mezhuev might be held responsible for security lapses. In addition, Mezhuev’s appointment will not prevent budget cuts for power structures.

President Lukashenko has appointed Alexander Mezhuev as Security Council State Secretary.

Mezhuev is not from the president’s inner circle, which points to a revision in staffing policy. A one-month delay with the appointment could be due to difficulties in identifying the most suitable person for this position, and also linked to the review of mechanisms how influence is distributed inside the Security Council.

Prior to his appointment as the State Secretary, Mezhuev chaired the Parliamentary Commission for National Security. The Belarusian Parliament is regarded as the ‘staff reserve’ before deserved retirement. Thus, the MP’s appointment to lead the Security Council implies a significant reduction in the State Secretary’s functions and influence.

During his career, Mezhuev has played supporting roles in the Defence Ministry; he has little influence and few connections in any power structure. Moreover, he is not planning to lobby interests of the military – he said that “it is important to eliminate the ‘pain spots’ promptly and in time, especially in the sphere of housing and communal services, residential construction, job creation and so on”.

The president has a small pool of trusted persons from which he plucks senior managers for power structures. Until now, all Security Council State Secretaries have proved their loyalty to president Lukashenko either since his first presidential campaign or during their service in the president’s security agency. The president zealously watches over the personnel policy in power structures and over the balance between the various law enforcement agencies.

In 2007, President’s Assistant for National Security – Viktor Lukashenko – was incorporated in the Security Council’s structure. His functions in the SC are not clear, but with the current appointment as State Secretary of a person without influence or connections in the security services, his role is set to increase.

President Lukashenko is attempting to reduce risks in case of socio-economic destabilization and to balance out various law enforcement agencies. Ahead of the presidential campaign, the president cannot afford for influential persons to emerge in key positions, especially within the power structures. Therefore, presumably, he decided to enhance the national security assistant’s role – Viktor Lukashenko – by strengthening his informal leadership.

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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.