Belarus president seeks government reshuffle before August election

Belarus president seeks government reshuffle before August election
Belarus President Alexandr Lukashenko
By bne IntelliNews May 26, 2020

Belarusian authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko is going to reshuffle his cabinet on the eve of the August presidential election.

According to Lukashenko, Central and Eastern Europe's longest-ruling head of state, the reshuffle is "a matter of principle" for people to see who he would work with after the election.

"We do not do this after the elections when you have been voted [...] This is why we need to prepare a new government, to decide how the new government will be formed before the elections - either it resigns or the president sends it off," news agency BELTA quoted him as saying on May 25.

"We need to think about it. People need to understand that we are not departing from this principle. Almost a final government will be formed before the presidential election," hinting at his victory during the election, which is considered by local and Western experts to be untransparently rubber-stamped.

In May, Lukashenko said that the authorities are not going to postpone the election due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. "Belarus is going to have the presidential election sooner. We have no reason to postpone it [due to the coronavirus epidemic]. There is no possibility to postpone the election, according to the constitution," he said.

Lukashenko is going to remain at his post "for as long as the people will trust me", as well as "for as long as I am healthy," he told journalists in September 2019. "If you are unhealthy, there's nothing for you to do as president. The main things are health and people's confidence," he said.

He added that the transfer of power is not considered an option in Belarus. "Our president will be elected only by the people."

In August 2018, Lukashenko appointed Sergei Rumas, head of the nation's state development agency, the Development Bank of Belarus, to be a new premier instead of Andrei Kobiakov.

Unveiling the appointment, the president slammed the former government for attempts to re-start the stalled privatisation of state-owned companies. "Will they throw half of the employees out on the street, which is proposed by some investors who come to me and say that they don’t need that many workers? Such privatisation will not be allowed in Belarus, we don’t need such privatisation," Lukashenko's media ofice quoted him as saying at the time.

The re-start of privatisation was one of the key demands from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new loan programme for Minsk, which failed at the final stage due to Lukashenko's refusal to greenlight privatisation of state-owned companies and a sharp hike in utility tariffs.

Lukashenko also branded attempts to hike utility tariffs as "brainless" policy. The president also said that his order to boost average monthly pay to BYN1,000 ($500) "had caused a panic" among the government's officials. According to Lukashenko, the former cabinet was warning that a hike would cause a collapse of the national currency, as well as "the collapse of the country".

Later in August 2018, Lukashenko said that he was forced to reshuffle the nation's government in August due to the fact that some senior officials "drank a lot", which is "unacceptable".

"I want to publicly say that heavy drinking is unacceptable," Lukashenko's media office quoted him as saying. "I was ashamed to say that many [government] officials whom I have recently dismissed drank a lot."

The statement followed the change of the nation's prime minister, four deputies and a number of ministers in a move, which Lukashenko explained by attempts of the government to implement unpopular economic reforms, including reforms demanded by the IMF.