The constitutional reform in Belarus has reached the home stretch. On the last day of August, a special commission sent to Alyaksandr Lukashenka a draft of amendments to the basic law. It is known that they want to keep the presidential form of government, one person will be banned from holding the post of head of state for more than two terms, they also want to deprive the country’s leader of the right to issue decrees and abolish government acts. The constitutional referendum is expected to take place in the country by February 2022. Izvestia understood the situation.
How the constitution of Belarus changed
In Belarus, the constitution has been changed more than once. In 1995, a year after Alexander Lukashenko took office as president, the first referendum was held. As a result, the head of state received the right to dissolve parliament ahead of schedule. A year later, a second referendum was held. The president again received additional powers, including the right to appoint and dismiss ministers, the prosecutor general, judges and the leadership of the National Bank. In addition, the first term of the head of state was “zeroed” – the next presidential elections took place only in 2001.
In 2004, a referendum was held in Belarus again. This time the term limit for the president was removed from the constitution, and he received the right to run indefinitely. Thanks to this vote, Lukashenka nominated himself four more times. This referendum became the reason for the aggravation of relations between Belarus and the United States. Washington said that the voting took place in an atmosphere of pressure and intimidation of voters, and for the first time imposed sanctions against Minsk.
Photo: RIA Novosti / Anton Denisov
In 2020, the next presidential elections were held in Belarus. The opposition accused the authorities of falsifying the voting results, the Western countries did not recognize Lukashenka’s victory. Then, against the backdrop of mass protests, the head of state said that the country needed a new constitution. At the same time, he promised that he would leave his post after the adoption of the amendments. “I don’t do it for myself. I will not work with you as president with the new Constitution. Therefore, calm down, bear it calmly, ”Lukashenka said in November 2020 at a meeting with doctors of one of the hospitals in Minsk.
In February, the President of Belarus promised that the draft of the new constitution will be ready within a year, and at the beginning of 2022 it will be submitted to a referendum… “We will redistribute powers, radically redistribute. We will prepare the third constitution, ”he noted. In March, Lukashenko signed a decree on the formation of the Constitutional Commission. It included 36 people: deputies, senators, officials, lawyers, representatives of business, culture and sports. The chairman of the Constitutional Court Petr Miklashevich headed the commission.
What do they want to change in the constitution
In July, the commission sent the first draft amendments to the president. Petr Miklashevich then said that in total it was proposed to amend 59 of the 146 articles of the constitution, add 16 more articles. Some of the amendments had no direct relation to the political structure. So, the authors decided to ban same-sex marriage – to recognize the marriage of a man and a woman… They proposed to oblige parents to “prepare children for socially useful work and inculcate culture.” In addition, the authors decided to fix that the state is responsible for preserving the memory of the Great Patriotic War, develops a peaceful atom.
Some of the amendments concerned geopolitical landmarks. At the same time, they were prescribed rather contradictory. On the one hand, it was argued that Belarus is a neutral state. On the other hand, it was emphasized that the country can enter into military blocs. How this is combined, the authors did not specify.
Another part of the changes concerned the democratization of public life. So, citizens were offered allow direct appeal to the Constitutional Court… They cannot do this yet. Besides, it was proposed to create an ombudsman institution… The functions and powers of the ombudsman were not spelled out in detail, it was only specified that once a year he would make a report to the president and parliament.
Photo: TASS / EPA / Maxim Shipenkov
The most interesting part was about the political structure. Here, despite the promises of change, no radical redistribution of powers could be traced. The presidential form of government remained, the power of the head of state remained extensive. The main one was the proposal to limit the tenure of the presidency to two terms. Another restriction – it was proposed to deprive the president of the right to issue decrees and abolish government acts. The rest of the changes were cosmetic. So, the authors decided to raise the age limit for presidential candidates from 35 to 40 years old, to prohibit citizens of foreign states from participating in elections.
Lukashenka, however, did not approve of the amendments. According to him, the members of the Constitutional Commission “rolled out remarks as much as 170 pages”, but it is difficult to call the draft prepared. On August 31, the Constitutional Commission sent Lukashenko the second draft of the new constitution. The amendments have not yet been made available to the public, but the authors have previously talked about some provisions. According to the statements of Petr Miklashevich, the members of the commission removed the words about Belarus’s striving for neutrality, because the country is part of the CSTO bloc. We consolidated the priority of national legislation over international legislation, dedicated a separate section to the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, which was endowed with the function of determining the country’s development strategy. Lukashenka will make his verdict on the amendments at an enlarged meeting of the Constitutional Commission, the date of the meeting is still unknown.
What the experts say
Experts believe that the constitutional change will be a serious test for the Belarusian authorities. “One of the intrigues is what place in the political system will be occupied by Alexander Lukashenko. He, of course, does not want to leave power. At one time, he seemed to be going to move to the chair of the chairman of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, to create the appearance of a transit of power. But in this case, the threat of dual power arose, a struggle with the successor could begin, as a result this idea was abandoned. Now it seems that Lukashenka will simply remain in the presidency. Yes, the amendments involve the introduction of a time limit for the head of state. But the countdown in such cases usually starts from the moment the document is adopted, which means that Lukashenka will be able to run twice more.“- Alexei Makarkin, vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, says to Izvestia.
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at the inauguration ceremony, 2020
Photo: RIA Novosti / BelTA / Andrey Stasevich
The interlocutor adds that the referendum will be a separate test for the authorities. “In the Minsk agglomeration and large cities, Lukashenka’s popularity is relatively low. It is clear that when counting votes, you can use the administrative resource. But here it is important not to overdo it, so as not to provoke a new surge of protest activity.“, – the political scientist emphasizes.
Nikolai Mezhevich, head of the Center for Belarusian Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that the situation in Belarus remains difficult. “On the one hand, the authorities kept the country from becoming chaotic. On the other hand, the problems have not gone away, and many dissenting people have remained in the republic and continue to gradually advance their agenda. I think President Lukashenko himself understands that the political crisis cannot be overcome without serious changes. Probably, in one form or another, the transit of power will still be carried out. It is only important that it be accurate, manageable, go for the good, and not for the destruction of the country, ”the expert notes.