Lukashenko plans to shield himself with the new Constitution of Belarus | International

Aleksander Lukashenko, on November 11 in Minsk.
Aleksander Lukashenko, on November 11 in Minsk.BELTA

Aleksandr Lukashenko wants to leave everything tied in the 28th year of his reign as head of Belarus. The state news agency Belta has leaked the changes to the new Constitution, a reform inspired in a way by the one made by Vladimir Putin in Russia last year and that would allow the Belarusian president to have everything under control whether he holds the presidency of the country or not.

Lukashenko announced a few days ago that the new Basic Law will be submitted to a referendum in the second half of February 2022. The amendments would grant him immunity for life, since among other points it appears that “the president who has ceased to exercise his functions cannot be held responsible for the actions committed in relation to the exercise of power ”. In addition, “the president will have immunity and his honor and dignity will be protected by law,” establishes the new article 89.

On the table is the validity that this new Constitution has in the future. Lukashenko is not recognized as president by either the US or the EU after the repression of the massive protests unleashed in the summer of 2020 following the results of the presidential elections. The president, who arrested most of the opposition candidates before its celebration, scored 80.1% of the votes compared to 10.1% for Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, the only rival who could appear and who united the entire opposition in bloc in elections with a massive turnout according to official figures: more than 84% of the voters.

“The draft Constitution does not offer a real choice for Belarusians,” Tijanóvskaya denounced this Monday on Twitter after knowing the details. “It will allow the dictator to secure power and control the situation through the artificial Belarusian People’s Assembly,” added the politician, whose husband and candidate at first before being arrested, Sergei Tijanovsky, has been sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment on charges of organizing massive disturbances, inciting social hatred and promoting actions that disturb public order.

The Belarusian People’s Assembly is Lukashenko’s ace up his sleeve. So far behind this ostentatious name there was only an informal meeting of the Government with businessmen and senior officials of the regime that was held occasionally for a few years. Now, the new Constitution consecrates to this structure an enormous power with which Lukashenko could dismiss his future successors when he leaves office.

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The new body must be defined by law within one year after the approval of the Basic Law. At the moment, only what the constitutional draft stipulates is known: it will have a maximum of 1,200 members, a five-year term and both the president of Belarus and his former presidents will be delegated. According to one of the newly minted articles, this assembly “will be the highest representative body of democracy in the Republic of Belarus”, and among its functions will be “to define the strategic directions for the development of society and the State.”

Whether he retains the presidency or opts for a seat in this assembly, Lukashenko would keep power under control. At the beginning of December, he told the Belta news agency that he will call presidential elections after the adoption of the new Constitution, although he did not clarify whether he would run again. “Honestly, I don’t know,” said the president, who has been in power since 1994. The constitutional changes establish that no one can hold the presidency for more than two legislatures, something that his inspirer, Putin, resolved with a law that has set his mandates to zero as of 2024.

As in the case of Russia, the constitutional reform of Belarus provides that citizens “who have or have had foreign citizenship or a residence permit from a foreign state that grant the right to receive other benefits” will not be able to run for the presidency. Likewise, neither can “persons sentenced to deprivation of liberty” or “citizens declared incompetent by a court”. In other words, the Lukashenko Constitution would exclude from future elections thousands of Belarusians who have fled the country or are in prison. According to the human rights NGO Viasna, 954 political prisoners are in Belarusian prisons, the majority for their participation in the 2020 protests.

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All the most important opposition figures reject this constitutional plebiscite. In a joint recording they have called on Belarusians to vote null. One of them, Pavel Latushka, Lukashenko’s former minister and now one of his fiercest critics, warns that this is “an imitation of a referendum to restore lost legitimacy to the regime and create an illusion of change in the West and Russia.”

The confrontation with his people has brought Lukashenko closer to Putin, who in exchange for his military and economic support has accelerated the negotiations for the integration of both countries under the supranational structure of the State of the Union, signed in 1999 and which foresees among other measures a common currency, legislation and defense. Although the new Constitution highlights in its preamble “the independence of the Republic of Belarus”, the opposition considers that this will only be for the gallery after Lukashenko’s concessions to the Kremlin.

In addition to the introduction of new articles, it also highlights the elimination of others. The most notorious deletion is that of the text where Belarus declared itself a nuclear-weapon-free zone. In the midst of escalating tension in November over the migrant crisis caused by Minsk in Poland and the Russian deployment to Ukraine, Lukashenko proposed to Putin that he send nuclear missiles to his territory if NATO moved his missiles further to the east of Germany. .

On this issue, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, advanced on Monday that the negotiations of the Atlantic Alliance and Moscow to give mutual security guarantees could take place on January 12.

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On the other hand, Lukashenko’s new Constitution is also inspired by the Russian one by underlining a series of unequivocal moral values ​​for the population, such as that citizens “must be socially responsible and must contribute to the development of society and the State”; that it “will ensure the preservation of the historical truth and the memory of the heroic feat of the Belarusian people during the Great Patriotic War (World War II”, or that marriage is the exclusive union of a man and a woman.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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