Lukashenka reshuffles Belarus govt. Hope for change or same old song?

A week ago, it became clear that the domestic power vertical was facing a serious reshuffle. On August 13, president Alyaksandr Lukashenka blasted the local authorities in Orsha for ‘underperformance’ and gave a roasting to the government. On August, Industry Minister Vital Vouk and Architecture Minister Anatol Chorny were dismissed ‘for failure to fulfill the President’s instructions’.

According to Lukashenka, the reason for neglecting is their ‘blase attitude’ to his orders and instructions given.

Such an impression did the official leader get during his visit to Orsha district. In his opinion, the former government failed and betrayed his trust. On August 18, Alyaksandr Lukashenka revealed the names of the newly-appointed top officials (First Deputy Prime Minister Alyaksandr Turchyn, Deputy Prime Ministers Ihar Lyashenka, Uladzimir Kukharau, Ihar Petryshenka, Economy Minister Dzmitry Kruty, etc). The new head of government Syarhei Rumas may boast at least of lifting some woodworking companies out of crisis. He also has a reputation of a market reforms supporter. Will the new Prime Minister and his team succeed?

The newly-minted cabinet seems to be liberal – at least against the background of their predecessors. In general, appointing the younger government gives hope for Lukashenka’s readiness for certain changes, independent experts say. For example, First Deputy Prime Minister Alyaksandr Turchyn decriminalized notorious Decree 488 which empowered the authorities to penalize every other entrepreneur; Economy Minister Dzmitry Kruty has always counted on the development of high-tech market. Deputy Prime Minister Ihar Lyashenka, who is facing extremely difficult negotiations on the oil issue with Russia, Raman Halouchanka, who is in charge of defense, Communications Minister Kanstantsin Shulhan and other representatives of the cabinet are truly experienced specialists.

However, the reshuffling of personnel might not have been carried out for the sake of liberalization, economist Leanid Frydkin believes. According to him, it is not ruled out that the new government will be deliberately implementing populist plans by the Belarusian leader.

“The fact that the government unexpectedly resigned in a relatively stable economic situation is indicative of serious controversions which will be inherited by the new cabinet,” Frydkin stressed.

It should be recalled that Syarhei Rumas presented the program of systemic reforms seven years ago. As a result, he lost the post of deputy prime minister and ‘stuck’ in the national football federation for a long time.

“Belarusian officials are very disciplined: if they are ordered to conduct market reforms, Belarus will be a pattern of a market economy in five years. But the question is whether they will have there such a go-ahead, because it would break the political existing system, which Lukashenka is against,political analyst Alyaksandr Klaskouski said.

Interestingly, the newly appointed Prime Minister thanked Lukashenka for confidence and promised there woul there would be no ‘revolutions’:

“Do not expect any revision of the decisions made or any revolutionary turns. When appointing us, the head of state focused on such things as discipline, decency, unity. In addition, much attention was paid to the welfare of the nation; the head of state stressed that this factor would be the main evaluation criterion of the government’s work.”

It is also worth noting that an unprecedented wave of media workers’ arrests took place in Belarus in the run-up to the reshuffle. Two weeks ago, journalists Halina Ulasik, Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Ulyana Babayed, Dzmitry Bobryk, Hanna Yermachonak, BelaPAN editors Tatsyana Karavyankova, Iryna Leushyna and Andrey Serada, Deutsche Welle correspondent Paulyuk Bykouski and the Belarusians and Market journalist Alyaksei Zhukau were detained under the co-called BelTA copyright infringement case. Although the detainees were released, some of them are still suspects. Will the new cabinet have any real influence on the situation in the country? The question remains open.

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