.
P

roposed changes to Belarus' constitution might allow President Alexander Lukashenko to stay in power until 2035, which is when he will be 81. After that, if health allows, he can simply continue to rule the Eastern European country as a Chairman of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly. 

Although recent events in Kazakhstan clearly show that any form of diarchy could easily lead to chaos, the Belarusian leader seems determined to hold a constitutional referendum in the second half of February. That, however, does not mean that Lukashenko, who has been ruling Belarus since 1994, aims to share power with anyone. Unlike the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who handpicked Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as his successor in 2019, Lukashenko seems to aim to become a de facto president for life.

"I wrote the new constitution myself. Jurists used a pen, and I dictated, because I know what powers I need in order to preserve the country," Lukashenko said in December. 

The constitutional amendments are geared to preserve the presidential form of government and to strengthen the role of the All-Belarus People's Assembly as a new body to operate in parallel with the parliament. A significant part of the powers of the head of state and parliament will be transferred to the All-Belarusian People's Assembly. At the same time, the parliament's term will be extended from four years to five. That, however, does not mean that the former Soviet republic will turn into a parliamentary democracy. Presently, Belarus is the only European country where political parties play an insignificant role, and a new constitution is expected to cement the status quo. 

The amendments to the country’s basic law are reportedly widely discussed in the Belarusian society. The constitutional changes that were proposed at the end of 2021 bring back limits on presidential terms allowing a president only two five-year terms in office. Technically, a new constitution will open Lukashenko a path to stay in office until 2035 and he could, hypothetically, even decide to eventually run the All-Belarusian People's Assembly. Some Belarusian political analysts believe that Lukashenko could be the President and the Chairman of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly at the same time. Indeed, such a move would almost certainly prevent a “dual power” in Belarus, although given the Kazakh experience, it would not be improbable for Lukashenko to propose additional changes to the country’s constitution, or even to postpone a referendum.

Initially, he spoke about the need for a constitutional reform back in 2018, but after a “color revolution” took place in Armenia, Lukashenko refused to change the basic law. There were reports suggesting that the Belarusian leader feared of an Armenian-style regime change in the Eastern European country, which is why he said that “no referendum would be held in the near future.” In the summer of 2020, just a month and a half before the controversial presidential election, Lukashenko again announced constitutional reform. This time he was reportedly pressured by Russia to change the constitution, and given that his room for political maneuvers is not nearly as big as it was before 2020, he simply had to make some concessions to the Kremlin.

The constitutional amendments scrap clauses about Belarus' neutrality and non-nuclear status, which means the country could legally host Russian strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. On the other hand, the draft constitution "excludes military aggression from Belarus’ territory against other states," which suggests that Lukashenko is not willing to allow Russia to use his country’s territory in a potential war against Ukraine. Still, a new basic law is expected to additionally integrate Belarusian foreign policy with the Russian one.

"The Belarusian constitution will be similar to the Russian basic law. We can say that there is even some form of unification. If there is a political will on both sides, the new constitution will deepen Minsk’s integration into the Russia—Belarus Union State," said Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS Counties Vladimir Zharikhin.

Until 2020, Lukashenko was relatively successfully implementing his “multi-vector” foreign policy, effectively balancing between Russia and the West. Now that Belarus lives under the Western sanctions, Lukashenko is heavily dependent on Russia, and he can likely follow the political path of the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito who ruled Yugoslavia for 35 years balancing between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.  Although Lukashenko praises Tito’s Yugoslavia, a new geopolitical reality will not allow Belarus to be “non-aligned.” 

The Belarusian President, however, still has high chances to stay in power; more than Tito did. After the referendum, Lukashenko is likely to announce an early presidential election. Since the Western-backed opposition has been exiled following the 2020 mass-protests, he now has no serious competitors at home, and is expected to win the election. The new constitution will also give him immunity from criminal prosecution if he eventually decides to step down. Indeed, Lukashenko, as an experienced politician, is carefully trying not to repeat Nazarbayev’s “political mistakes.”

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Belarus’ Constitutional Reform: The Fate of Alexander Lukashenko’s Reign

Minsk, Victory Square, Belarus.

Photo by Osman Yunus via Unsplash.

January 16, 2022

With Belarus living under Western sanctions, President Lukashenko is increasingly dependent on Russia. The latest example is a proposed constitutional reform which would keep Lukashenko in power until 2035 and bring the country further into Russian orbit, writes DC Correspondent Nikola Mikovic.

P

roposed changes to Belarus' constitution might allow President Alexander Lukashenko to stay in power until 2035, which is when he will be 81. After that, if health allows, he can simply continue to rule the Eastern European country as a Chairman of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly. 

Although recent events in Kazakhstan clearly show that any form of diarchy could easily lead to chaos, the Belarusian leader seems determined to hold a constitutional referendum in the second half of February. That, however, does not mean that Lukashenko, who has been ruling Belarus since 1994, aims to share power with anyone. Unlike the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who handpicked Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as his successor in 2019, Lukashenko seems to aim to become a de facto president for life.

"I wrote the new constitution myself. Jurists used a pen, and I dictated, because I know what powers I need in order to preserve the country," Lukashenko said in December. 

The constitutional amendments are geared to preserve the presidential form of government and to strengthen the role of the All-Belarus People's Assembly as a new body to operate in parallel with the parliament. A significant part of the powers of the head of state and parliament will be transferred to the All-Belarusian People's Assembly. At the same time, the parliament's term will be extended from four years to five. That, however, does not mean that the former Soviet republic will turn into a parliamentary democracy. Presently, Belarus is the only European country where political parties play an insignificant role, and a new constitution is expected to cement the status quo. 

The amendments to the country’s basic law are reportedly widely discussed in the Belarusian society. The constitutional changes that were proposed at the end of 2021 bring back limits on presidential terms allowing a president only two five-year terms in office. Technically, a new constitution will open Lukashenko a path to stay in office until 2035 and he could, hypothetically, even decide to eventually run the All-Belarusian People's Assembly. Some Belarusian political analysts believe that Lukashenko could be the President and the Chairman of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly at the same time. Indeed, such a move would almost certainly prevent a “dual power” in Belarus, although given the Kazakh experience, it would not be improbable for Lukashenko to propose additional changes to the country’s constitution, or even to postpone a referendum.

Initially, he spoke about the need for a constitutional reform back in 2018, but after a “color revolution” took place in Armenia, Lukashenko refused to change the basic law. There were reports suggesting that the Belarusian leader feared of an Armenian-style regime change in the Eastern European country, which is why he said that “no referendum would be held in the near future.” In the summer of 2020, just a month and a half before the controversial presidential election, Lukashenko again announced constitutional reform. This time he was reportedly pressured by Russia to change the constitution, and given that his room for political maneuvers is not nearly as big as it was before 2020, he simply had to make some concessions to the Kremlin.

The constitutional amendments scrap clauses about Belarus' neutrality and non-nuclear status, which means the country could legally host Russian strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. On the other hand, the draft constitution "excludes military aggression from Belarus’ territory against other states," which suggests that Lukashenko is not willing to allow Russia to use his country’s territory in a potential war against Ukraine. Still, a new basic law is expected to additionally integrate Belarusian foreign policy with the Russian one.

"The Belarusian constitution will be similar to the Russian basic law. We can say that there is even some form of unification. If there is a political will on both sides, the new constitution will deepen Minsk’s integration into the Russia—Belarus Union State," said Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS Counties Vladimir Zharikhin.

Until 2020, Lukashenko was relatively successfully implementing his “multi-vector” foreign policy, effectively balancing between Russia and the West. Now that Belarus lives under the Western sanctions, Lukashenko is heavily dependent on Russia, and he can likely follow the political path of the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito who ruled Yugoslavia for 35 years balancing between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.  Although Lukashenko praises Tito’s Yugoslavia, a new geopolitical reality will not allow Belarus to be “non-aligned.” 

The Belarusian President, however, still has high chances to stay in power; more than Tito did. After the referendum, Lukashenko is likely to announce an early presidential election. Since the Western-backed opposition has been exiled following the 2020 mass-protests, he now has no serious competitors at home, and is expected to win the election. The new constitution will also give him immunity from criminal prosecution if he eventually decides to step down. Indeed, Lukashenko, as an experienced politician, is carefully trying not to repeat Nazarbayev’s “political mistakes.”

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.