The Belarusian authorities have presented the plans for a new constitution. The changes appear to strengthen the position of Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko and to make it even more difficult for the opposition to gain power.
For example, according to the draft constitution, former presidents of Belarus cannot be prosecuted after their tenure. Since the independence of the former Soviet state, Belarus has had only one president: Lukashenko himself.
The constitutional amendment was announced by Lukashenko a year ago, in response to the massive protests against his regime. It was long unclear exactly what the change would entail. Critics saw the promise of a constitutional change as a way to nip the turmoil in the bud, without having to make any concrete commitments.
The constitutional amendment will be submitted to the people in a referendum in February. Previous referendums were fraudulent, according to observers and the European Union. So it is expected that the new Constitution will be approved.
Maximum term on presidency
In the new constitution, among other things, the rules surrounding the presidency have been amended. For example, future presidential candidates are excluded from elections if they have lived abroad for some time over the past 20 years. That amendment seems to be aimed at excluding opposition politicians who fled the country due to repression from election participation. Presidential candidates must also be at least 40 years old from now on.
The draft constitution also sets a maximum period for presidents. After two elections, a president is no longer allowed to participate; however, a term of four to five years will be extended.
Lukashenko is now working on his sixth term, but after the constitutional amendment, the counting of deadlines begins again. So, when the Constitution is adopted, the President could win elections twice more. In theory, he can stay on until 2035, the year in which he turns 81.
In addition, the new constitution should strengthen the position of the Belarusian Peoples Assembly. That is an unelected council of government officials and top business executives. According to the plans, the Peoples Assembly gets the final say on foreign policy. The council is also allowed to drop the president off.
Analysts and journalists take into account that Lukashenko will chair the Belarusian Peoples Assembly himself in the future. Previously, he hinted at resignation after the introduction of the new constitution. From the Peoples Assembly, he could drop off his successor when he becomes too critical of him, expects journalist and researcher Tadeusz Giczan.
Opposition wants elections
The head of the presidential service said when presenting the constitutional plans that Belarus “will continue to develop as a democratic state”.
Lukashenkos opponents are, as expected, critical of the constitutional changes. In a tweet, opposition leader Tichanovskaya writes that the plans aim to “empower the dictator and avoid persecution”. According to her, new presidential elections are the only solution to the political unrest in the country.