Election campaign results: the elections took place, a boycott did not
The elections’ main political outcome was that they demonstrated the sustainability and effectiveness of the power vertical. Belarusian authorities have proved that they can manage the campaign’s progress effectively and achieve the desired voter turnout, but the price they have to pay for the lack of competition in the electoral process is the population’s political apathy and growing lack of confidence in the authorities. The opposition, which had not set any political goals during the campaign, started shaping two new internal coalitions.
All the major participants in the election campaign remain at where they started off. The authorities have a predictable and controllable Parliament. The opposition can focus on its internal problems and continue building coalitions. In particular, on September 23rd, before the voting ended five opposition movements - BNF, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Hramada”, Belarusian Left Party “Fair World”, “For Freedom” and “Tell the Truth!” – issued a joint statement about non-recognition of the elections results. Earlier, six other organizations also issued a joint statement (see ‘Opposition’s post elections coalitions shaping up’).
The campaign has demonstrated that today the authorities have the greatest influence on the electorate and can guarantee 50% turnout, which is needed to validate the elections. Official data says the turnout at these elections was 74.2% with 26% early voting turnout. Note that 50% turnout threshold was achieved in all constituencies by 18:00 on September 23rd. Official data differs from independent monitoring data by 10-15%, which can be explained by artificially increased turnout.
The authorities had a clear strategy and tactics to mobilize voters. ‘Controlled mobilization’ strategy aimed to “wake up” the society just enough to secure the desired turnout, but not enough for the opposition to use it for their political goals, for instance, to boycott the elections. The authorities used different tactics: election commissions were staffed with loyal members and there were loyal elections observers, there were targeted information campaigns and repressions against opposition activists, including use of various pressure tools on voters (encouraging and repressive) to step up to the vote, for instance, ballot box stuffing, which was reported by an independent observer in the Mogilev constituency no. 87.
The precinct and district election commissions and observers groups have been largely formed by members in the pro-state associations and parties, such as the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, “Belaya Rus”, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, the Communist Party of Belarus, Belarusian Social Sports Party and others. The oppositions’ participation was minimal.
Early voting took place on September 18th - 22nd with a traditional turnout of 26% before the Election Day on September 23rd. On principal, Belarusians are willing to vote early, during this campaign, 1 825 062 people used their right to vote early. Nevertheless, the authorities used traditional tools to achieve the desired results: providing additional days off for those who voted early and exerting pressure on social groups particularly dependent on the state: students, soldiers, teachers, etc.
All the mentioned above measures allowed the authorities to succeed in achieving the campaign’s key strategic objective and to keep the election’s heat at a safe and adequate range. One should anticipate that there will be a traditional continuity between the new and the old Parliament, namely, it will remain a controlled tool to coordinate public policies, developed the President’s Administration and the Council of Ministers.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.