Housing construction plans’ fulfillment is an important factor in Lukashenko’s election programme
On March 22nd, Belarus’ Deputy Prime Minister Prokopovich said that the country’s housing construction programme was balanced, and the odds were high that it would be fulfilled.
Along with a growth in wages, increased housing construction is yet another important factor in improving president Lukashenko’s popularity. With the election campaign drawing nearer and Lukashenko’s low current rating have forced him to launch a very ambitious and risky housing construction programme.
The proximity of the forthcoming presidential elections in 2015, have forced President Lukashenko to stir up his efforts in winning voters’ support. Since 2011, the president’s electoral rating has dropped to 30%, which is 10 percentage points lower than the average in 2006-2010. In addition, in 2012 the president’s popularity stopped responding to increases in real incomes.
There are reasons to believe that the president’s decreased popularity was caused by the reduced housing construction volumes. In 2010 (the election year) 84,700 apartments were built in the country – the record-high volumes for contemporary Belarus. But later there was a sharp decline: 69,800 in 2011 and 55, 500 in 2012.
Another reason why Lukashenko’s ratings are falling is the revised soft loans policy for housing construction in 2011. In 2010 about 80% of 866,000 of those who ‘needed’ to improve their housing conditions received soft loans from the state for the housing construction needs. But after the adoption of decree No 13 in January 2011, the number of soft loans recipients decreased by 2-2.5 times.
In political terms, soft loans for housing construction have an important multiplier effect: for example, if a young family receives a soft loan for the apartment, the authorities get at least two votes. In turn, young families may have 4 adult close relatives, not to mention the extended family, friends and colleagues. Thus, the halved number of soft loans recipients left some 350,000 without state support, which, with the multiplier effect, could affect views of some 700,000 voters (about 10% of all voters in Belarus).
Therefore, in view of the painful housing reform of 2011 it is essential for the government to secure high volumes of commissioning housing by 2015. The plan is to commission 6.5 million square meters in 2013, and 9.5 million square meters in 2015. For reference, in 2010, 6.6 million square meters were commissioned and in 2012 - 4.5 million square meters. In the meantime, the main problem is whether the ambitious plan could be implemented with reduced state soft loans (i.e. Belarusians would have to rely primarily on their own means).
Potentially, the National Bank’s motive behind the discount rate reduction to 10-15% pa is largely explained by this problem. Housing construction policy in the country is supervised by Deputy Prime Minister Prokopovich - Honored Builder of the Republic of Belarus. In February the government also proposed to resume issuing foreign currency loans for housing construction to the population, but this proposal was not supported by the National Bank.
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.