Lukashenka undermines COVID control measures as the leadership of the security forces is strengthened ahead of the referendum
In a repeat of spring 2020, anti-covid measures adopted by doctors and local authorities have been reversed following public criticism from Lukashenka, fuelling discontent amongst officials and the medical profession. The Belarusian leadership continues to appoint alumni of the security forces to leading positions in civilian departments, to pursue political purges and ensure the obedience of the state apparatus during the constitutional referendum.
As a result of Lukashenka’s criticism, the mandate requiring face masks and the suspension of non-critical medical appointments have been cancelled, undermining attempts by doctors and local authorities to limit the spread of COVID-19. Confidence in state institutions, vaccination, and official statistics all remain low. The response to the pandemic is also threatened by a shortage of doctors, partly due to politically motivated purges.
The security forces are acting to drive self-censorship and contain the influence of political exiles on the political agenda. MPs and a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs spoke in favour of depriving Belarusians of citizenship in retaliation for “hostile actions against the country” and working “in the interests of Western countries.”
Lukashenka will address some of the issues raised by political exiles during the next Constitutional debate. Unsurprisingly, Lukashenka has not announced a decision about relinquishing the presidency after constitutional reforms are enacted.
Security forces continue to attack the legal representatives of political prisoners and exiles as disciplinary proceedings are initiated against Viktar Babaryka’s defence attorney.
Lukashenka continues to strengthen the role of the security forces and appoint members to civil positions in the run up to the constitutional referendum. The former deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs became the Minister of Justice, the former deputy head of the KGB became the deputy chairman of the presidium of the National Academy of Sciences, and the former Minister of Internal Affairs, Ihar Shunevich, became the head of the Association of Hunters and Fishermen.
GDP growth has slowed to 2.7% and real incomes are falling due to accelerating inflation. The regime is counting on the security forces to crush any dissent that may arise.
The authorities are acting to reduce overmanning, which has historically been a form of social guarantee, absorbing the unemployed as state employees and public sector workers. The loyalty of remaining workers will be consolidated by a combination of pressure from the security forces and wage increases. In the past, the Belarusian leadership sought to curb unemployment due to fears of the growth of the protest movement.
At higher echelons of the state apparatus, uniform loyalty will be ensured by monitoring for reports of “anti-state sentiments” at any previous workplaces and declaring information regarding the effects of sanctions as ”classified”.
Repressive rules, criminal prosecutions, and political purges will all continue to increase at the hands of the security forces as the referendum approaches.
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