Posted 18 февраля 2022,, 07:00

Published 18 февраля 2022,, 07:00

Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38

Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38

Referendum on the new Constitution of Belarus: Lukashenko wants to leave in order to stay

18 февраля 2022, 07:00
Belarus has announced the date of the referendum on amendments to the Constitution - February 27. Alexander Lukashenko, in accordance with the updated Basic Law of the country, promises to give power to the people, but in fact he will immediately lead it. What does the new Belarusian Constitution change?

Sergey Kron

The expert community believes that since November 2020, the Belarusian authorities have been actively creating a myth that all problems have been resolved, “enemies” have fled to “sponsors”, the rebellious people have “changed their minds”, and stability and order, which the West is trying to restore, has been restored in the country” undermine" sanctions. Moreover, the causes of popular anger are also being actively hushed up. The fact of falsification of the results of the presidential elections is replaced by references to the intervention of external forces, in particular, Poland. But not everything is so simple.

"Come, sit down, write a new Constitution"

BBC journalists told such a story. In January, Nikolai Vitikov, a pensioner from the village of Teryukha in the Gomel region, submitted his ideas for a new constitution to the Mayak regional newspaper. A few days later, they broke into his house with a search, after which the police sent the “rural provocateur” to a pre-trial detention center. Now Vitikov faces up to five years in prison on charges of inciting social hatred.

Pensioner Vitkov, apparently, is not the only one who fell into the hands of the security forces for trying to take part in the creation of a new Constitution, which the authorities themselves call "people's".

During the 27 years of his rule, Alexander Lukashenko changed the Constitution twice. In 1996, his term in office was extended and the powers of the Constitutional Court were limited. In 2004, the limit on the number of presidential terms was abolished.

For the first time, Lukashenko raised the issue of adjusting the Constitution for the third time back in 2016, explaining this by the need of the times, the Belarusian agency Belta recalled.

However, Alexander Lukashenko especially often began to talk about amendments to the Constitution in the midst of protests after the presidential elections in August 2020, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Belarusian cities.

Speaking at a wheeled tractor factory to workers shouting “Go away!”, an enraged Lukashenko replied that there would be no new elections until he was killed, and that the country needed constitutional reform.

“Come, sit down, and work on the Constitution. We put it to a referendum, adopt it, and I will transfer my powers under the Constitution to you. But not under pressure, ”Alexander Grigorievich promised then.

Since then, the BBC notes, the authoritarian leader has not missed an opportunity to recall the need for amendments to the country's Basic Law, motivating them either by the will of the people, or by a natural process of change, or by an excessive burden on the president.

“The constitution must be changed, because the powers that the head of state has today are very difficult for a person”, - Lukashenko said during a speech before the All-Belarusian People's Assembly at the end of last year. “Besides, it is not known how a person who, if we simulate the situation, would seize power by force, would use such unlimited powers”.

The fourth power will appear in the country

To work on the amendments, Lukashenko assembled a constitutional commission, mainly composed of state officials, and himself headed it. Parliament Speaker Natalya Kachanova became deputy head of the commission.

It was also joined by the "Round Table of Democratic Forces" (KSDS), headed by Yuri Voskresensky, who was on the side of the opposition before the presidential elections, ended up in a pre-trial detention center, was released, and now, according to members of the opposition, has become "the mouthpiece of power".

It was Voskresensky who called on the oppositionists who had emigrated to return to their homeland and take part in the creation of the draft of the new Constitution, and then wondered why they were in no hurry to do this.

Official Minsk has repeatedly emphasized that this is a people's Constitution, in the creation of which all citizens of Belarus should participate, and tried in every possible way to demonstrate this. However, recently the constitutional commission decided not to install ballot boxes in foreign countries.

At a meeting on constitutional amendments in January, Lukashenko said the commission had received about 7,000 proposals from across the country and that the draft was the result of numerous discussions. Indeed, in some places at the factories, actions “Towards a referendum” were held, and in the first days of February, a campaign concert was held at the National Airport of Minsk in support of the future voting.

According to the published draft of the Constitution, the All-Belarusian People's Assembly (VNS) - the highest representative body of power consisting of 1,200 people - will become part of the state structure. It will be led by a presidium with a chairman or a life senator who is not elected by the people. Experts see Alexander Lukashenko as the latter, although he himself denies this.

In addition, the draft proposes that the chairman of the National Assembly can impeach the incumbent president, as well as protect himself from persecution for actions that he committed as head of state.

“VNS is a superstructure that is incomprehensible from the point of view of constitutional law, the fourth power in which all three are mixed”, - said lawyer Artyom Proskalovich. - The constitution, which already does not provide for any separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, becomes even more complicated and blurs the boundaries of both competencies and responsibilities. For the period when Lukashenko will combine two posts, it turns out that the controlled body will be at the same time the controlling body.”

“He gave himself the right to sit on several chairs - to be president and head of the People's Assembly - this is a clear trend that the main goal of the constitutional reform is to hold power with undemocratic tools,” opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko believes. “This is a transfer of authority from the right pocket to the left pocket - the jacket is the same”.

The new version of the Constitution will return to the limitation of presidential powers to two terms - something that was thrown out of the previous version also by a referendum, the results of which were questioned by many in Belarus in 2004. Thus, the President of Belarus can hold office for no more than two terms. It turns out that in case of victory in the next presidential election, Lukashenko may be in power until 2035.

The opposition hasn't said its last word yet.

“The referendum is a fraud and a crime in which we are being persuaded to take part,” it is written on the website of the Golos platform, which is going to conduct an independent count of votes in the referendum.

Before the start of the referendum, democratic forces led by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called on Belarusians to come to the polling station and spoil the ballot. Earlier, one of the leaders of the protest, Maria Kolesnikova, made an appeal to take part in the voting from prison.

Foreign headquarters are preparing for the referendum in their own way. They advise Belarusians, for example, “to tear up the ballot, draw a devil or just eat it.” It will not be possible to take a picture, since the authorities, taking into account the popular mood, removed the curtains from the voting booths. At the same time, 2.5 million Belarusian voters who live abroad were deprived of the right to vote. There is another option - not to come to the referendum at all, in order to prevent Lukashenko from claiming that he has the majority of the people behind him and his power is legitimate.

“In today's Belarus, everything is aimed at making society gray, quiet and the same for management,” says lawyer Proskalovich. “But the people will still have their say”.

According to Russian political scientist Andrey Suzdaltsev, Belarus is returning to the era of absolute monarchies, where everything related to the pronouns "I", "mine" and "me" will be considered law.

"At first glance, - the expert said in an interview with Novye Izvestia, - the constitutional reform initiated by Lukashenko is striking in its absurdity. He builds on paper a whole constitutional "fortified area", called upon, by all means, to keep himself in power for as long as possible, and ideally for life. At the same time, it is clear that the old scheme of maintaining the regime under the previous Constitution of 1994 does not allow Lukashenko to retain power. An insurmountable obstacle remains for him - mandatory elections every five years. This is a disaster for the first Belarusian president. Lukashenko cannot go to new elections, because on the one hand he is afraid of a new uprising, and on the other hand, the Belarusian security forces are unlikely to withstand another civil war. The Russian factor also plays its role, where questions arose about the effectiveness of Alexander Grigorievich himself, who, with huge financial and resource support that has no analogues in world history, brought the situation in the country to a popular uprising. So, Lukashenko will part with the “old” Constitution.

According to Suzdaltsev, in principle, Lukashenko could do without constitutional reform altogether. In the presence of a junta of security forces. Referring to an external threat, he could establish a state of emergency and rule, relying on "bayonets". But he did not go for a demonstrative dictatorship, but tried to push back his inevitable departure from power by imitation of the reform of the Constitution.

"All these constitutional tricks undertaken by the Belarusian authorities show that Lukashenko has completely lost the momentum of his rule. He politically retreats, "digs in", "mines" any legal approaches and "trench" to the foundations of his political dominance in the country, and at the same time tries to predict and identify threats to Belarusian authoritarianism, that is, his irremovable power. As a result, Lukashenko turned the new version of the Belarusian Constitution into a bizarre and incompatible heap of legal obstacles that prevent the people, as a real source of power in the Republic of Belarus, from getting to the one who privatized this power, and actually stole it from the people", - said "NI" political scientist Andrey Suzdaltsev