Lukashenka Reshuffles the Government Before the 2015 Elections
On 27 December, Alexander Lukashenka ordered a major reshuffling of the government as Belarus weathers economic troubles and prepares for the 2015 presidential campaign.
He appointed a new Prime Minister and his deputies, heads of the National Bank and the Presidential Administration, as well as a number of new ministers and regional governors.
The new appointees will have to ensure that Belarus avoids any potential economic disasters while postponing any serious reforms in 2015.
Despite popular expectations, Lukashenka did not use the recently fired officials as scapegoats for the mounting economic problems. On the contrary, he offered some of them lucrative jobs in order to thank them for their long years of service.
“A Traditional Move Before the Elections”?
Rumours and speculation about an imminent government reshuffle have circulated throughout the year. On a number of occasions, the ousting of Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich looked inevitable but his government held on. Few pundits expected that a sweeping government reorganisation would happen only days before the New Year.
According to Lukashenka, the reshuffle should be looked upon as a traditional move that he makes before a presidential campaign rather than an extraordinary move. However, in all probability, the country's recent financial troubles did speed up the government's reorganisation.
On 19 December, the authorities had to make several urgent moves to prevent panic on the foreign currency exchange market following last week’s dramatic decline of the Russian ruble. According to a source close to the government, Aliaksandr Lukashenka explicitly prohibited the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble but simultaneously demanded some measures to protect hard currency reserves.
Faced with such a conundrum, the National Bank imposed a temporary 30% fee on all foreign currency purchases, raised interest rates and provided state guarantees for deposits in Belarusian rubles.
The measures managed to curb the public's panic but became subject of serious criticism from business unions and experts. After a series of economic discussions with the Myashikovich government, Aliaksandr Lukashenka finally decided on 27 December that a new government was needed to manage the economy.
Mainly the Same Faces
The reshuffle mainly saw the same familiar officials moving from one office to another. All in all, 24 officials received new portfolios in the Government, the National Bank, the Presidential Administration and large state companies. The most prominent appointments are:
Andrei Kabiakou, the former head of the Presidential Administration, has replaced Mikhail Myasnikovich as Prime Minister. Kabiakou has extensive government experience: in 2000-2010 he served as a Deputy Prime Minister. He also worked as the head of the State Control Committee, Minister of Economy, deputy head of the Presidential Administration and Ambassador to Russia.
Aliaksandr Kasinets has become the new head of the Presidential Administration. Before this appointment he chaired the Vitsebsk Region Executive Committee and previously he held the posts of deputy Prime Minister and rector of a medical university.
Pavel Kalavur has replaced Nadzeya Ermakova as the chairperson of the National Bank. In 2010-2014 he headed a commercial bank, but before that he spent 17 years in the capacity of deputy chairman of the National Bank.
Uladzimir Zinouski has moved to the position of the Minister of Economy. Before that he headed the National Statistics Agency for 16 years and also chaired the Council on the Development of Entrepreneurship.
Other noticeable appointees include:
- New deputies of the Prime Minister: Vasil Matsyusheuski (previously, chairman of a commercial bank) and Natallia Kachanava (head of Novopolotsk City Executive Committee);
- New deputies of the Head of the Presidential Administration: Mikalai Snapkou (Minister of Economy) and Ihar Buzouski (chairperson of the Belarusian Republican Union of Youth);
- New Minister of Education: Mikhail Zhuraukou (the first vice-rector of the Belarusian State University);
Also, Aliaksandr Lukashenka replaced the appointed governors of three regions: Vitsebsk, Brest and Mahiliou.
Contrary to popular wisdom, Alexander Lukashenka did not use the reshuffle as an occasion to place all the blame for the mounting economic problems in the country on the fired government officials. He even made a number of symbolic “honorary appointments”.
Mikhail Myasnikovich has become the speaker of the parliament’s upper chamber – the Council of the Republic. His ex-deputy Piotr Prakapovich and the National Bank’s former chairwoman Nadzeya Ermakova will now head two commercial banks. Several other long-serving officials whom the president replaced (Anatol Tozik, Siarhey Matskevich, etc.) will probably get new honorary posts soon.
This is an important development to pay attention to if one wants to understand the logic of the state apparatus in Belarus and the principles that govern it. No doubt, the whole system works to guarantee the stability and security of the president’s rule and the latter sometimes presents individual officials as scapegoats for the state's most worrying problems. However, Alexander Luakshenka also has to adhere to certain informal rules and principles in order to send the right signals to his bureaucracy.
In particular, he cannot just fire long-serving and reputable officials and blame all of the nation's problems on them. Individual cases might arise from time to time but the general rule requires that the president treats such officials respectfully and offer them lucrative opportunities upon their departure from active service.
What to Expect from the New Government?
The government reshuffle caused a wave of speculation in the Belarusian media about its likely implications. The majority of commentators do not expect any essential changes in the state's economic or social policies.
The decision-making system remains unchanged and nothing appears to indicate that Alexander Lukashenka will allow the new government to launch structural reforms that international institutions, like the IMF or EBRD, want to see. Moreover, the president made it clear what he wants from the new government – to secure his own victory in the 2015 presidential campaign. He has traditionally called this period “an exam” for the whole state apparatus.
The government will have to ensure that Belarusians do not suffer any deep blows to their well-being before they cast their ballots next year. Therefore, the newly appointed officials will do their best to balance between minimising the negative effects of Russia’s recession and falling oil prices, on the one hand, and postponing painful socioeconomic reforms – on the other.
For these very tasks, the appointees seem like proper choices. Only Pavel Kalavur has the reputation of being a pro-market banker, however. The others represent the same views that have dominated Belarusian policy-making over the last two decades: massive state property and government control over the economy, administrative measures over market tools, pushing for as little reform as possible. Among the new officials, Prime Minister Kabiakou is the most prominent incarnation of these non-reformist ideas.
However, if the economic situation in 2015 becomes really dire, the new government will hardly be more effective than their predecessors.