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GENERAL AND HIS ARMY

1. Disposition

The opinion poll has revealed that support of the society to the current course has been steadily going down despite manifold efforts of the Belarusian authorities – from introduction of a single state ideology and reshuffle of the high-ranking officials to new repressions against the civil society and actual reconsidering of integration politics with Russia. Although rating of President A. Lukashenko has risen by 5% and now makes 31.7% as against our April opinion poll, his convinced opponents (those who wouldn’t vote for him neither at the presidential election nor at the hypothetical presidential election of the Russia-Belarus Union, those who don’t trust him and don’t consider him an ideal of a politician) are more than threefold larger in number than his supporters and come to half the population while the number of those hesitating goes, on the contrary, down (See Table 1).

Table  1. Dynamics of electoral types as to A. Lukashenko, %

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Fulfillment by the president of his election pledges is estimated according to the 5-point scale as 2.7 points; 61.1% of respondents believe “another candidate should take this post” (“elect A. Lukashenko anew” – only 28.3%); almost half the respondents claim “the country in general goes in the wrong direction” (“in the right direction” – 30%); and at the hypothetical referendum 51.8% are ready to vote against amendments to the Constitution allowing A. Lukashenko be elected for the third term (“for” – 22.6%). Even the action like dismissal of the Prime Minister and his deputy “for falsification and misrepresentation” that even several years ago would effectively distract from public discontent doesn’t bring presently to the expected result: only 36.2% of respondents say the reason is that “the government hasn’t paid off its debts to collective farmers timely” while 43% insist that “A. Lukashenko tries to raise his prestige among population”.
In such a situation more and more Belarusians think of a possible alternative figure to the president and his course. Although almost 60% of respondents say Lukashenko’s rating has dropped down since the last presidential election (23.8% think in the opposite), 83.3% still don’t know a person able to effectively compete with him at the next presidential election (13.2%know such a man). However, looking for an alternative and readiness to accept this alternative appears to be a dominant political aim of the Belarusians (See Table 2).

Table  2. Distribution of answers to the question “If you knew a man able to effectively compete with A. Lukashenko at the next presidential election, would you vote for him or for А. Lukashenko?”

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Cumulative rating of the democratic parties in Belarus makes 35.8% but, as we have already noted in our analytics, it is more a statistic rather that political value because it is distributed among dozens of parties and the number of citizens ready to cast their votes for a candidate of any one party is now several times less. S. Gaidukevich was the only candidate who received 4% exceeding the margin of error in the polling to the question “If tomorrow there is a presidential election in Belarus, who would you vote for?” that in fact was used to determine rating of politicians. When this question was asked in a milder wording – “Would you name Belarusian politicians and public figures who express your interests to a greater extent?” – six politicians were named and received from 6.3% (S. Shushkevich) to 3% (S. Kalyakin), apart from A. Lukashenko given 19.3%.

2. General

Does this mean that such a strong expectation of an alternative is nevertheless not focused on a political force and millions of Belarusians have to wait for several more years and come through some new hardships? The results of our survey prove – not (See Table 3).

Table  3. Distribution of answers to the question “Deputy group Republic standing with the criticism of A. Lukashenko’s policy was formed a year ago in the Belarusian parliament at the initiative of General V. Frolov. Some positively take the fact that the president is criticized in the parliament, others – negatively. What is your attitude?”

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After the opinion poll we conducted in April positive estimates of Republic’s activity has increased by 4.6% (due to those hesitating to answer). Yet another result brought a sensation (See Table 4).

Table  4. Distribution of answers to the question “If you had to choose president out of the following politicians, who would you vote for?”

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As we can see, in the situation of ‘rigid choice’ when voters are offered specific alternative – and this is how it goes in a polling booth – the chances of a disgraced general with a deputy mandate would make 1:2. This once again proves our conclusion that expectation of an alternative turns a dominant political aim of the Belarusians. The fact that in answers to an open question on election of president V. Frolov’s rating made 1.2% against A. Lukashenko’s 31.7% says nothing about a real electoral distribution: the general just like other Belarusian politicians fairly takes a place in the actual awareness of the electorate in its major part. The reasons to such a situation are well-known – access to the stage of the Belarusian politics has been for many years barred with control over the mass media and almost total reduction of the legislative power. But as soon as the alternative penetrates into voters’ actual awareness, it will produce the effect of a nuclear explosion. To support this conclusion, we’ll compare how the voters knowing and knowing not ‘the candidate able to effectively compete with A. Lukashenko at the presidential election’ would vote in the situation of ‘rigid choice’ (See Table 5).

Table  5. Voting in the situation of “rigid choice” depending on your knowing “a candidate able to effectively compete with A. Lukashenko at the presidential election “, %

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It is clear that general’s rating will rise by 20% in the situation of a known alternative. And in case of consolidation among the democratic forces (i.e. supplement votes of at least half other democratic candidates) as well as free and fair election there are almost no doubts about V. Frolov’s victory.

3. Army

Who does the potential General V. Frolov’s ‘army of voters’ comprise? Some politicians and analysts come out with fears that a possible ‘change of a collective farm director for an army general’ might become ‘trade of bad for worse’ and Belarus will remain marginal in the center of Europe for another five years. But let political scientists make analysis of general’s biography and personality, his political and economic ties, team and program. From the sociological point of view, it is more important to present the system of electoral expectations that allow more or less precisely predicting the political road of a candidate as far as the latter focuses those expectations to come to power.
Analysis of ‘sociological portrait’ of the electorate ready to vote for V. Frolov (that same 17.9%) showed that this is:
  • mainly a young, most active economically and most educated part of the society;

 

  • concerned about aggravating of not only their personal financial state but also about economic and political climate in the country in general and first of all about regular violation of democracy and human rights;

 

  • understanding that a major cause of this decline are not mythical ‘interior and foreign foes’ and not the government or local authorities but the president himself unwilling to change his politics, therefore they are ready to vote against A. Lukashenko’s third term in office at the possible referendum;

 

  • convinced that, on the one hand, Belarus should develop mutually beneficial and stable co-operation with Russia that has achieved greater progress in its economic and political development and, on the other hand, it should closely co-operate with Europe, so they are ready to even vote for joining the European Union at the referendum.
In other words, this is that very electorate that is looking forwards to changes in the country and that the Belarusian opposition relies on but that so far “hasn’t reciprocated its expectations”. Focusing of expectations of the most dynamic and democratic part of the society on the figure of V. Frolov allows supposing to high probability that if he comes to power, he will pursue a democratic, market-oriented and multi-direction policy.
Another doubt aired even more often goes as follows: “General is a brave and decent man but there are none and nothing behind him. He might receive a real support if only relies on existing political parties. As far as parties have leaders with ratings higher that general’s, their candidatures might have been even more successful in focusing electorate’s expectations of changes.” Let’s examine to what extent V. Frolov’s potential electorate is ‘borrowed’ from other political forces. To do this, we’ll need to (gradually extending the subject of analysis) consider distribution of electorate that voted for alternative candidates at the latest presidential election (according to the latest polling results, 23.1% respondents voted for them that almost repeats the results of December polling – 23.3%) and the electorate of democratic parties that presently makes 35.8% that is also very close to the results of April polling – 37% (See Table 6).

Table  6. How would the voters who participated in the election of 2001 vote nowadays if they had to choose among the following politicians, %

If you had to choose president out of the following politicians, you would vote:
In 2001 voted for:
А. Lukashenko (50.0)
V. Goncharik or S. Gaidukevich (23.1)
For A. Lukashenko
61.8
3.1
For V. Frolov
6.6
40.3
Wouldn’t take part in the election
4.0
16.8
For another candidate
8.7
13.4
Against all
4.9
7.1
As we can see, the group ready to give their votes for V. Frolov dominates among the electorate that two years ago voted for changes. This very table well demonstrates that A. Lukashenko’s electorate is steadily “melting”.
The citizens ready to cast their votes for V. Frolov also dominate, although not so obviously, among the party electorate. We would like to specially draw attention of the adherents of ‘party purity’ not that much to V. Frolov’s but to A. Lukashenko’s rating (47.6% of respondents from the Labor Party are ready to vote for the president while 73.8% – from the Party of Communists Belarusian!) for you should not be too self-confident (See Table 7).

Table  7. How would supporters of 10 democratic parties (UCP, BPF, CCP, BSDG, BSDP “NH”, LP, PCB, “Nadzeya”, BEGP) vote if they had to choose among the following politicians

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Finally, the most essential criterion for examination is voters’ behavior in the situation of “free choice”. How would respondents who chose the general from the pair A. Lukashenko – V. Frolov (that same 17.9%) vote if they had unrestricted choice? Data of the Table 8 depicts well this point.

Table  8. Structure of V. Frolov’s electorate (those ready to vote for him in the situation of “rigid choice”) in the situation of “free choice”

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The most important conclusion based on this data is that those ready to vote for the general are not so much supporters of all opposition parties taken together but the voters who haven’t yet taken sides and in the actual awareness of whom there is no so far any alternative – they are almost half of the Belarusian population! To remind, the choice that gave the general the rating only twice less than to A. Lukashenko wasn’t a rigid one: while answering to this question respondents supporting another candidate could write the name of another candidate (only 9% used the opportunity). Consequently, V. Frolov’s electoral potential is his personal rather than borrowed and comprises mainly the voters whose expectations haven’t yet got focused on a particular candidature.
Thereby, sensation of our survey is not in a ‘methodological construction’ but in real electoral preference of the Belarusians: It is the general-deputy who nowadays has alternative expectation of about 1.5 million voters focused on his figure, even though an overwhelming majority hasn’t heard his name. The reasons to such focusing – in the situation when there are names given – have been many times spoken out. First, he represents a system opposition (deputy group Republic). Second, he has a wide military background (54.1% of voters trust the army and 32.4% – don’t trust the army nowadays while this ratio for the opposition parties makes 18.4% against 55%). Will General V. Frolov be really able to lead not the army of soldiers and officers accustomed to carrying out orders but millions of voters guided by their personal likes yet united in looking forward to changes? Answer to this question will depend on many factors but first of all – on consolidation of the democratic forces in Belarus over real concerns and needs of the electorate and on creation of an efficient coalition including the electorate bloc at the parliamentary and presidential elections.