Could Belarusians See Russia as the New Alternative?` July 2012  Polling Memo

BISS presents the sixth issue of the polling memorandum series based on the public opinion poll data of the Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS). The improvement of how Belarusians feel about the economy did not lead to a subsequent improvement of President Lukashenka’s popular rating. Furthermore, the majority of Belarusians still think that their country is moving in the wrong direction, according to the June 2012 IISEPS poll.

These data supports BISS’s earlier hypothesis that Mr. Lukashenka “would probably focus on securing one-third of the population behind him for some period of time”.  Yet, compared with March 2012 Mr. Lukashenka lost 5 points of his electoral rating and scored 29.7% in June. The number of those who have no faith in him (51.9%) again exceeded his supporters (38.5%). However, despite a stable majority of those who believe that Belarus is moving in the wrong direction (54.3% in June 2012), Lukashenka continues to be the only real political player in Belarus. Thus, fresh data conclusively attest the broadly new view of Belarusian society, arisen during the spring of 2011, according to which the Belarus` leadership has little chance to “whip” a majority.

Nevertheless, the June poll may show a new political “winner”. Although the gap between geopolitical choices of Belarusians became smaller than it was in March 2012, it still remained a prevailing pro-Russia choice 43.6% vs. 39.8% pro-EU when asked to vote in a referendum. However, if asked which country or union could provide better economic assistance, 50.6% of respondents answered Russia (compare to 32.2% EU), and 47.8% answered they have a “positive attitude” towards Mr. Putin. This implies that in times when uncertainty prevails, Russia – and its President – enjoys stronger support from Belarusians than any other domestic or international political institution. That might reinforce, since while the Belarusian leadership rushes to restore the $500 average monthly salary, the Russians will eventually foot the bill and take credit for that. All in all, the data may be seen as a wake-up call for both the authorities and the political opposition: if political institutions remain unreformed and the political processes remains deadlocked further, Belarusian society will see Russia and Russian president as a clear viable alternative.

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