On January 20th, the office of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that the country will hold a referendum on the constitutional amendments that have been proposed by Lukashenko himself. According to the statement by the Presidential Office the referendum will ask citizens to vote on the question: ‘’do you accept the amendments and additions to the constitution of the Republic of Belarus’’. Lukashenko proposed that the constitution should be amended after the disputed Presidential elections in 2020.
The proposed changes would give Lukashenko immunity from prosecution and put in place a limit of two terms in office, each term lasting 5 years. However, the two term limit would only apply going forward, which means that Lukashenko could rule until he is 81. Furthermore, the amendments will weaken the parliament and strengthen the role of the All-Belarus People’s Assembly, an advisory body made up of loyalists from government and industry. The proposed powers for the Assembly include the appointment of senior judges, the ability to initiate impeachment procedures against the president, and the power to approve foreign, security and economic policies. The proposed amendments would also prevent anyone who temporarily left the country during the last 20 years from becoming President, a change that appears to be aimed at opposition members who have been forced into exile.
Attempt to cling to power
Opponents of Lukashenko have called the attempt to rewrite the constitution an attempt of the President to cling to power. Opposition leader Pavel Latushko, who is in exile in Poland, stated that the new constitution “is intended to cement Lukashenko’s power, giving him and members of his family life-long personal immunity from prosecution, as well as immunity to everyone who supported his crimes on the territory of Belarus.”
In a meeting on the 21st of January, members of the Belarusian opposition held a press conference where they outlined their strategy for the referendum. They are calling on Belarusians to participate in the referendum by spoiling their ballots. Opposition representatives argue that the regime will expect a boycott, and that non-participation will make it easier to falsify the referendum’s results. By spoiling the ballots, Belarusians will get a chance to demonstrate their opposition to the regime. However, opposition leaders remain cautious about whether their efforts will succeed. Resistance has been difficult to organize since the democratic opposition has been shattered with hundreds of people in jail and leaders in exile.