Lukashenko resumes populist rhetoric to keep up his approval rating
While talking to BelAZ employees last week, Alexander Lukashenko mentioned government plans to substantially increase support for families. Once again, he promised that there would not be a rise in prices and housing and communal services tariffs.
Two years ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign, Lukashenko has resumed his populist rhetoric. Following some controversial initiatives aimed at picking citizens’ pockets, he has started making populist statements to keep up his electoral rating. As the government cannot provide social guarantees ‘for all’, the president will focus his efforts on winning the loyalty of certain social groups.
Lukashenko’s return to populist rhetoric is mainly linked with the need to introduce positive alternatives to public opinion, in the face of growing expectations of an economic crisis and the impending presidential elections. (While IISEPS polls show a small climb in the president’s electoral rating in 2013, hitting 42.6% in September, his approval rating nevertheless remains low in comparison with this stage in previous election campaigns) .
In recent months, the Belarusian authorities have proposed a range of unpopular measures to reduce the state’s social guarantees. Some were used to create information pollution and additional room for manoeuvre for Lukashenko.
Alexander Lukashenko will use the government’s action to reduce spending on social benefits in his own game, and will shift the responsibility to the government officials. Right before the launch of the presidential campaign, he will ‘win back’ some social benefits and improve his approval rating.
The authorities can no longer use their old ways of improving their approval rating, e.g. increase social benefits to the entire population on the eve of the elections. Lukashenko considers focusing on implementing some of the most popular social projects. This means narrowing the welfare state even more and shutting down inefficient government programmes.
Lukashenko has effectively stopped talking about modernization, which means the modernization programme had failed and the enterprises’ modernization plans to be reduced.
Freed-up funds may be spent on new campaign projects, e.g. the ‘Big Family’ programme. This initiative is aimed at young families and suggests introducing a so-called ‘mother’s capital’ in Belarus which will help Lukashenko to improve his approval rating among this social group by 2015. Also, a new Demographic Security Programme will be approved in 2015.
The new social programmes declared by Lukashenko, imply that the welfare state will be narrowed even more. The authorities lack resources to provide social guarantees ‘for all’ and will take populist decisions to win the loyalty of certain social groups in the view of the upcoming elections.
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.