Changes in the housing ownership rules: political opportunities for opposition and President
On May 17th, Housing Minister Andrei Shorets reported to MPs about a new decree on housing ownership reform to be signed in the near future.
The news about the revision of housing ownership rules create a clear economic discomfort for residents who have not yet privatized their apartments. Simultaneously, the reform creates favourable conditions for some political actors who may improve their popularity while fighting against such threat.
According to the Minister, the new rules will introduce lease payments for the use of non-privatized apartments, where residents lived on lease agreements yet since the Soviet era. Such residents will have two options: either to pay the rent, or to privatize their property in the course of a year, alternatively, the apartments will become social housing without the privatization right.
If adopted, this decree may affect the interests of about 392,000 owners of non-privatized apartments, or about 14% of the Belarus’ total housing volume or about 6% of the electorate without taking into account close relatives. Experts estimate, that the privatization costs will be USD 300-400 per square meter.
Whether passed or not, the information about his decree creates favorable conditions for the political players – for the opposition and the government - to protect the interests of the citizens affected by the project. In particular, in the beginning of April, the Party of Freedom and Progress organizing committee came up with an initiative with a number of proposals to the government. However, it should be recognized that this draft decree has not yet attracted significant attention of the opposition.
Paradoxically, President Lukashenko might also criticize this Decree. Protection of the social rights of voters, duet to anti-liberal considerations, is his conventional tactics and is particularly relevant in light of the upcoming elections. In particular, previously Lukashenko sharply criticized some ‘liberal’ initiatives of Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Tozik aiming at eliminating shadow employment.
Therefore, the probability is high that the Ministry of Housing and Public Utilities will be criticized for the ‘anti-people attitude’, simultaneously allowing the President to reconsider staffing policy at this public body.
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.