Lukashenka Looking for a New Prime Minister?

On 23 March, Alexander Lukashenka asked journalists to send him their suggestions for a candidate for a new prime minister of Belarus.

For a long time the leader of the Belarusian has been intensifying his rhetoric about his dissatisfaction with the economic results of the government and replacing Mikhail Myasnikovich. Still, his resignation may happen only next year.  

The Head of the Presidential Administration Andrei Kabiakou, chairman of the Development Bank Siarhei Rumas or the Speaker of the House of Representatives Uladzimir Andreichanka seem to be the most likely candidates for the premiership. Lukashenka has limited choices and no candidate will make a real difference.

The prime minister in the Belarusian system is but a mere puppet of Lukashenka, unable to conduct deep economic reforms in the country.

Leisurely Premier's Retirement

On 23 March, Alexander Lukashenka confirmed that he is still considering removing the current government and is search of an official who could replace Mikhail Miasnikovich as a prime minister. The Belarusian head of state is looking for a new prime minister in the upper echelons of the state apparatus. According to him, there are about 35-40 people there under consideration.

Alexander Lukashenka is considering the resignation of the government due to the economic problems facing the country. In particular, the Belarusian leader is troubled by the warehouses filled with Belarusian products that nobody wants to buy. Simultaneously, Lukashenka reasonably states that this is partly due to the fact that the West and the East today lack a favourable economic common ground.

There is a real possibility that the current government will soon be sent packing. Its dismissal will likely take place in the coming months. The most likely scenario will have Lukashenka dismissing Miasnikovich ahead of the presidential election, pegging him with all the economic problems Belarus has faced the past few years.

The Belarusian economy, meanwhile, continues to deteriorate. This year Belarus is trapped in a recession, and inflation continues to rise, despite the fact that in neighbouring countries, it is almost nonexistent. The prime minister does indeed appear to be unable to fix the economy.

Candidates for the Prime Minister's Chair

Although Lukashenka said that he would choose the future prime minister from a pool of 35-40 people, the media and experts have independently determined most likely successors to Myasnikovich. The leading candidates are:

Andrei Kabiakou, Head of the Presidential Administration, has a good personal relationship with the Belarusian head of state. He has served as vice-Prime Minister for 10 years and was the ambassador of Belarus to Russia. Although born in Moscow, he received credibility among managerial elites for his toughness in his negotiations with the Kremlin.  

 

Siarhei Rumas, Head of the Development Bank, has long been considered as one of the supporters of liberal reforms in the Myasnikovich government. He is known as a man who can make things happen. He speaks several foreign languages ​​and knows how to work with international institutions. At the age of 44, he remains one of the youngest officials in Belarus.

 

Uladzimir​ Andreichanka, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has been in power for a long time and has led the Vitebsk Regional Executive Committee for 14 years. He has led the House of Parliament since 2008. In a Belarusian context, this means that that he has been doing next to nothing. Lukashenka recently returned a few deputies to positions of real power, and Andreychenko may be the next in line.

 

Uladzimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs, has become known as the architect of the previous dialogue between Belarus and the EU. Previously, he was a member of the state security services, worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and headed the presidential administration. Consequently, he lacks a deep understanding of economic matters, so his appointment as prime minister would come as a surprise.

 

Siamion Shapira, head of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee, has long been considered as a liberal amongst the ruling elites, although lately he personally gave the order to fire scholar Andrei Charniakievich from his university position for a book about the history of Hrodna. Lukashenka invited Shapira to the government before, but he asked to stay on as governor.

 

While this list defines the potential candidates for the post of prime minister, Lukashenka may choose another person on purpose, one who is not particularly popular today.

Will There be Policy Change After a Change of Government?

The Belarusian political system is built in a way that it is of no consequence who occupies the post of prime minister. The government remains but an executioner of the president's will. It lacks any real authority and sometimes even acts as Lukashenka's whipping boy. During meetings with Lukashenka, Belarusian senior officials tend to look at the floor rather than directly in his eyes.

The fact, that Lukashenka remains reluctant to speed up the process of finding a replacement for the premiership after speaking about it for a few months, confirms he has other designs. The appointment of a liberal in the government does not mean that the government’s policy will be liberal as the PM that "runs" it. Rather, it will continue to follow the the direct orders of its populist master.

Belarus' problems are related not only to the worsening economic situation, but also to the structural deficiencies of the economy. However, the current authorities appear reluctant to liberalise the economy and privatise enterprises, so the long-term improvement of the Belarusian economy remains unrealistic. Last month, the Minister of Agriculture and Food presented a recovery plan for Belarusian villages. However, the plan lacks even basic private property rights.

In general, the head of the Belarusian state has a short list to choose from. Most capable managers left the ruling elite back in the 90s, and talented young people are not eager to join up. Although the authorities continue to declare their desire to bring back successful Belarusians from abroad, these statements fall on deaf ears. A personnel shortages remain one of the greatest problems for Belarus.

The search for a new prime minister appears to be little more than shuffling of an old deck of cards. Whatever card Lukashenka pulls, the result is already clear. Belarus needs someone truly new.

Ryhor Astapenia is a Development Director at the Ostrogorski Centre, and editor-in-chief of Belarusian internet magazine Idea.

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