Country Report Belarus December 1998 Main report

Political scene: Mr Lukashenka blames economic crisis on others --

The president, Alyaksandar Lukashenka, has responded to the current troubles by portraying himself as the only person who can protect citizens from the careless mistakes of his ministers. For instance, during a cabinet meeting broadcast in September the president told ministers not to forget to feed the schoolchildren and to fight private traders who attempted to profit from the country's predicament. The broadcast showed the president threatening ministers and praising the KGB's efforts against corrupt officials. Whether or not the broadcast was a rehearsed exercise or an example of Mr Lukashenka's real leadership style, it showed a president comfortably in control of his government despite the troubles, not least because of help from loyal security forces. The president has recently carried out his threat to shake up the cabinet if conditions did not improve by December. On December 4th the presidential administration announced the dismissal of the foreign minister, the minister for CIS affairs and the minister for foreign and economic relations. Mr Lukashenka has now combined the three ministries into one, which will be led by Ural Latypov, a former colonel in the KGB.

-- and remains popular among the general public

The president's strategy of blaming others appears to be working, as opinion polls consistently show Mr Lukashenka to be far more popular than his political opponents. In a poll in October 1998 by the Independent Institute of Socio-economic and Political Research, an organisation not linked to the government, over 50% of respondents indicated support for Mr Lukashenka. The three main opposition leaders, Gennady Karpenko, Zyanon Pazniak, and Stanislav Shushkevich, each polled under 3%. The same poll reported that over 30% of respondents felt that an election would not be necessary in 1999 (the date originally planned when Mr Lukashenka won in 1994) because no better candidate existed than the current president.

© 1998 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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