Belarus’s authoritarian leader on Tuesday announced a referendum on a new constitution to be held in February 2022 and vowed not to let the opposition take power, a move that analysts say could strengthen its grip on power after months of mass protests.
President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday that a new constitution had been drafted that redistributes powers among the main branches of government and establishes a new governing body – the People’s Assembly of Belarus.
“The changes aim to make the Constitution more harmonized and balanced by redistributing the powers of the president, parliament and government and establishing a constitutional status for the People’s Assembly of Belarus,” Lukashenko said.
He did not provide details on the proposed bill or on the role that the All-Belarus People’s Assembly would assume – there is currently no such governing body in Belarusian law, but it already exists. a parliament.
Lukashenko said earlier that he would step down as president – a post he has held for more than a quarter of a century – once the new constitution is adopted, but in recent months he has stopped mentioning such possibility.
“The people will make the final decision, the referendum will take place no later than February next year,” Lukashenko said.
During his 27 years as head of the former Soviet republic, Lukashenko held three referendums, abolishing presidential term limits, amending the constitution, and re-establishing Soviet-style symbols of the state.
Belarus has been rocked by months of protests fueled by the granting of a sixth term to Lukashenko after the presidential vote in August 2020 which the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. He responded to the protests with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested, thousands beaten by police and others forced to seek refuge abroad.
The Belarusian opposition and international organizations have proposed talks between the government and the opposition under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but Belarusian authorities have rejected the proposals.
Lukashenko again pledged on Tuesday not to let the opposition come to power, saying it would “destroy the country”.
“Lukashenko has no intention of going anywhere, he is stepping up the repressions in order to get the referendum result he needs,” independent analyst Valery Karbalevich said. “The Kremlin has helped him retain power, and the referendum is needed to cement that.”
Follow all PA developments on Belarus at https://apnews.com/hub/Belarus.