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FUTURE PRESIDENT AS BELARUSIANS SEE HIM

The results of the latest opinion polls indicate that the rating of A. Lukashenko is not shaking any more – it is on a steady decline (Table 1). As it has already been mentioned before, considering the overall atmosphere of fear and mistrust in society, the real figures may be somewhat less.

Although A. Lukashenko’s electoral resources are still plentiful and may grow in certain circumstances, and although it is still a year before the presidential elections, this process makes us again analyze the image of an ideal president, as Belarusians think about him. Experience shows that the candidate, who is able to consider the voters’ expectations will have most chances to win, not the one, who will try to make people accept his image and his program.

Table 1. Aggregate indicator of attitude to Alexander Lukashenko, %

Attitude indicator
Mentioned A. Lukashenko (option A)
Did not mention A. Lukashenko (option B)
11’97
09’98
03’99
11’99
04’00
08’00
11’97
09’98
03’99
11’99
04’00
08’00
Would vote for A. Lukashenko in the next presidential elections
44.3
52.2
46.0
43.8
38.4
33.8
55.7
47.8
54.0
56.2
61.6
66.2
Would vote for A. Lukashenko in the elections of the president of the Russian-Belarusian union
35.2
44.7
32.8
31.6
22.3
19.5
64.8
55.3
67.2
68.4
77.7
80.5
Trust the president
45.0
48.0
41.0
39.8
39.2
36.3
22.5*
22.1*
28.8*
32.5*
32.9*
38.6
Think that A. Lukashenko is an ideal politician
50.4
51.5
45.7
44.9
37.0
31.3
49.6
48.5
54.3
55.1
63.0
68.7

* Do not trust the president

The aggregate indicator of voiced supporters and opponents of the president (calculated according to an IISEPS method) is based on four figures.
Let us remind you, that the supporters of the president mentioned A. Lukashenko, when they were answering all questions in Table 1. They are ready to vote for him during the elections of president of the Republic of Belarus, trust him, think that he is an ideal politician, and would vote for him in the hypothetical elections of the president of the Union of Russia and Belarus. To put it bluntly, they support the president’s policies, knowingly, actively and with conviction. A. Lukashenko’s supporters refuse them, vice versa.
According to this method, the Belarusian electorate can be divided into three groups, which are different in size (Table 2). We can see that A. Lukashenko’s voiced supporters and opponents make up around 50% of the electorate. The rest can be classified as a hesitant majority, i.e. people, who chose A. Lukashenko when they were answering some of the questions and did not choose him when they answered the rest (for instance, some of them trust A. Lukashenko but do not like him or vice versa).

Table 2. The electorate structure and dynamics, %

Structure of the electorate
11’97
09’98
03’99
06’99
11’99
04’00
08’00
Staunch supporters of A. Lukashenko (gave A answers to all four questions)
26.0
29.3
21.8
26.2
22.3
15.5
13.5
Hesitate
53.2
53.3
52.1
48.1
49.5
54.2
50.0
Firm opponents to A. Lukashenko (gave B answers to all four questions)
20.8
17.4
26.1
25.7
28.2
30.3
36.5
The figures show that the number of A. Lukashenko’s voiced opponents is on an increase: three years ago there were fewer opponents than staunch supporters, now their quantity increased threefold. Considering, that there are 7.5 million voters in this country, this means that there are slightly more than a million supporters of the president, while around three million people are his opponents! This is the first time during the whole period of these monitoring when the number of people, who mistrust the president exceeded the number of those, who trust in him.

Table 3. Dynamics of the rating of political parties and groups (readiness to vote for party candidates in the parliamentary elections), %

Political party, group
11’99
04’00
06’00*
07’00*
08’00
United civil party (S. Bogdankevich, A. Lebedko)
3.0
4.5
2.7
2.3
3.5
Conservative Christian Party BPF (Z. Paznyak)
4.4
2.2
1.4
1.0
2.3
Party BPF (V. Vecherko)
–*
2.1
1.8
1.3
1.7
Belarusian social-democratic party “Narodnaya Hramada” (N. Statkevich)
1.6
2.0
1.9
1.4
2.2
Belarusian social-democratic union (S. Shushkevich)
6.1
4.2
2.8
3.1
3.9
Labor party (A. Bukhvostov)
1.4
1.7
1.7
0.7
1.1
Women’s party “Nadzeya” (V. Polevikova)
8.4
5.8
6.8
6.2
5.0
The Belarusian party of communists (S. Kalyakin)
2.4
2.4
2.0
1.6
1.0
Belarusian communist party (V. Chikin)
3.1
3.3
1.7
1.0
2.7
Liberal democratic party (S. Gaidukevich)
1.5
1.8
1.0
1.0
1.1
Belarusian union “Yabloko” (O. Abramova)
2.3
1.6
1.1
1.4
2.4
NA
63.7
67.1
73.2
79.0
71.0

* Before split BPF

Although the rating of A. Lukashenko is still high, the general trend obviously shows that his position is weakening. That means that more and more people think about the alternatives to A. Lukashenko and his politics. One year, which is left before the presidential elections is not a big term, but it is high time we thought about the possible alternatives, all of us, who long for change, politicians, analysts, and journalists. A stable low rating of today’s opposition leaders (from all sectors) – either as representatives of their groups, and as persons – indicates the fact, that during this year a real program of actions must be developed and carried out (Tables 3 and 4).

Table 4. Dynamics of politicians’ ratings (readiness to vote for them in the presidential elections), %

* V. Yermoshin, a potential candidate of the regime was taken for a comparison

There are a few dominant characteristics in the Belarusians’ views about the future president: the majority agrees that he must be male, he must represent a government structure and be a supporter of a market economy (Table 5). There are substantial differences in all other views, which reflect an ideological and political conflict in the Belarusian society, of which much has already been said. Two groups of people have opposing opinions about the image of the future president, and around half of them does not have any definite ideological and political views. The analysis of views of the future president shows us that, even considering the views of those, who do not care about the economic and political beliefs of the possible candidate, more Belarusians are likely to support a democratic president, than an authoritarian president (Table 6).

Table 5. A concept of the future president, %

The future president:
07’00
08’00
– male
– female
– does not matter
83.2
11.2
–*
55.7
6.0
37.4
– a resident of Minsk
– a resident of a region
– does not matter
38.0
45.9
–*
14.7
11.1
73.3
– must represent a non-government organization
– must represent a government agency
– does not matter
22.1
68.4
–*
29.2
10.8
58.5
– a proponent of the market economy (A)
– a proponent of the administrative economy (B)
– does not matter
60.2
34.5
–*
46.8
17.5
34.3
– a proponent of the separation of powers (A)
– a proponent of the concentration of authority in the hands of the president (B)
– does not matter
46.6
48.2
–*
38.7
29.6
29.9
– a proponent of independence for Belarus (A)
– a proponent of a unification with Russia (B)
– does not matter
46.5
49.5
–*
37.1
30.5
31.1

* This option was not featured in the questionnaire

Table 6. Social types depending of their concept of Belarus’ future president, %

* Supporters of a democratic president are people, who chose answer A to the last three questions in Table 5, supporters of an authoritarian president are those, who gave the B answer, supporters of a combined type are respondents, who chose all other combinations. The option “Does not matter” was eliminated in the August poll for the sake of a correct comparison

The views of the Belarusian elite about the future president are a lot more democratic than the opinions of the people at large. There is not a single (!) voiced supporter of an authoritarian president among the queried opinion leaders and experts. This is yet another indicator of a deeply rooted conflict, which exists not only among various groups in the Belarusian society, but also between the elite and society at large.
However, the majority of respondents (their number was even larger in August than it was in June) do not have a clear vision regarding the president they want, as a proponent of a political, social or economic course (Table 5). On the one hand, this gives the candidates, who are far more advanced than their potential electorate, some chances to win. On the other hand, this situation provides almost unlimited opportunities for populism, which may become even “tougher” than it was in the year 1994. The fact that some 30% of respondents want a future president to support an integration with Russia and another 30% do not care is especially disturbing. An important conclusion can be made from that: direct elections of the president in Belarus will pose new threats to democracy and independence. In Latvia and Estonia (think of the societies in those countries), people understood it ten years ago and allowed the elite choose the president, not the common people. The contemporary developments in Moldova indicate the fact, that the situation may be improved in certain conditions.

Table 7. Distribution of answers to the question “For which candidates would you rather vote in the autumn 2000 parliamentary elections?”, %

Answer
08’00
Candidates of a union of opposition parties – members to the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces (United Civil Party, Party BPF, Belarusian social democratic union, Belarusian social democratic party “Narodnaya Hramada”, Labor Party, Women’s party “Nadzeya”)
13.8

54.8

Candidates who represent other political parties
6.8
Independent candidates
34.2
Candidates who support A. Lukashenko
30.2

33.7
Other candidates who represent the regime
3.5
Other candidates
4.9
NA
6.6

Table 8. Distribution of answers to the question “For whom, do you think, the majority of the electorate would vote during the autumn 2000 parliamentary elections?”, %

Answer
08’00
Candidates of a union of opposition parties – members to the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces (United Civil Party, Party BPF, Belarusian social democratic union, Belarusian social democratic party “Narodnaya Hramada”, Labor Party, Women’s party “Nadzeya”)
8.8

37.2
Candidates who represent other political parties
5.0
Independent candidates
23.4
Candidates who support A. Lukashenko
49.0

53.9
Other candidates who represent the regime
4.9
Other candidates
2.9
NA
5.7

Table 9. Distribution of answers to the question “A representative of which social group wold you like to become Belarusian president?”, %

Answer
08’00
A single representative of union of opposition parties – members to the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces (United Civil Party, Party BPF, Belarusian social democratic union, Belarusian social democratic party “Narodnaya Hramada”, Labor Party, Women’s party “Nadzeya”)
13.5

53.5
A representative of other political parties
5.0
An independent candidate
35.0
A. Lukashenko
34.0

36.8
Other representative of the regime
2.8
A representative of other group
2.8
NA
6.9

Table 10. Distribution of answers to the question “For whom will the majority of the electorate vote during the presidential race?”, %

Answer
08’00
A single representative of union of opposition parties – members to the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces (United Civil Party, Party BPF, Belarusian social democratic union, Belarusian social democratic party “Narodnaya Hramada”, Labor Party, Women’s party “Nadzeya”)
8.8

32.1
A representative of other political parties
3.7
An independent candidate
19.6
A. Lukashenko
56.3

60.4
Other representative of the regime
4.1
A representative of other group
1.8
NA
5.7
Tables 7-10 show that the democracy in Belarus has substantial electoral resources. The number of people, who are ready to vote for representatives of democratic forces and independent candidates (i.e. people, who are against the authorities or do not share their views) in the parliamentary and presidential elections is even greater than the number of supporters of the representatives of the regime: 54.8% against 33.7% in the parliamentary elections, and 53.5% against 36.8% in the presidential race. However, further analysis, which was carried out according to a method called “a spiral of silence” by a German social scientist Elisabeth Noel-Neumann, shows us that this figure is only a potential resource at the moment: the democratic majority thinks that it is a minority and that the election victory (both during the parliamentary and presidential elections) will be held by their opponents. Therefore, this resource cannot yet be counted in a struggle for change. Therefore, it seems that currently this is the main and the most serious challenge for Belarusian democrats: not to show the society a mirror, which would not be distorted by fear and propaganda. A progressive part of the population must see itself in this mirror, not its opponents, and begin to believe that it can do something to change the situation.