Constitutional changes risk turning into a return to elements of the Soviet political system.
Lukashenko intends to revive the equivalent of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU
Visiting the Stolbtsy Central Regional Hospital, Alexander Lukashenko spoke about plans to make the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly (ABPA) a constitutional body almost as it were a settled issue:
«I don’t know if you support it or not, but the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly should be made a constitutional body.»
This is an indication of plans to revive the central elements of the Soviet political system under slightly different names. It seems that the ABPA, as an analogue of the Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), is intended to be noted in the Constitution as a body that determines the primary directions of domestic and foreign policy. Accordingly, the Presidium of the ABPA (the equivalent of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee) would become a formal governing state body in the period between congresses, and none other than Alexander Lukashenko would head it.
In this case, this will mean Lukashenko’s gaining an additional constitutional status, which, in a worst-case scenario for him, would allow him to remain the supreme leader of Belarus, even if formally leaving the presidential post. As follows from the statement in Stolbtsy, it is the ABPA that would be strengthened, and not the parliament or the government:
«If we remove some responsibilities from the president, they need to be transferred somewhere. These powers are not appropriate for the government and parliament. To where should they be transferred? We must look for the right authority. And we have the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly.»
The calculation is that in the event of strong pressure from the Kremlin or with even stronger protests, Lukashenko could formally transfer the presidential post with reduced powers to a person in his team (for example, Golovchenko), securing the real reins of government through a «new» influential constitutional status. In this case, the influence of the presidential administration would diminish in favor of the Presidium of the ABPA.
In this scenario – a good scenario for himself – Lukashenko expects to get a new position while continuing to occupy the presidency so that he can transfer it to a loyal person in the longer term.
A vicious cycle: how government agencies can cut the Gordian knot
This idea is hindered by one important problem and a clearly vicious cycle: for the ABPA to be able to approve changes to the Constitution, it must already have constitutional status and appropriate powers by this time. But the issue of granting it constitutional status must be approved by the Belarusian people through a referendum.
According to Article 140 of the Constitution, its most important chapters (I, II, IV, VIII) can be changed only through a referendum. However, under conditions of widespread popular discontent, organizing a referendum with such intentions is a difficult business.
Therefore, government agencies may decide to do without a referendum altogether, indicating the fact that such a procedure is supposedly necessary if amendments are made to the old Constitution, but not if a new one is adopted. The possibility of such a trick was pointed out in October by the former judge of the Constitutional Court, Maryskin.
The option of organizing a referendum is not ruled out, in which several formally democratic, insignificant changes would be made together with a rule that the ABPA is endowed with the right to amend the Constitution.
In this case, the most awful amendments, such as proclaiming Lukashenko as the Leader of the Nation according to the Kazakh-Tajik model and the abolition of direct presidential elections in favor of election through parliament could be adopted by the ABPA somewhat later without any referendums.
Historical farce: the All-Belarusian Assembly as a clone of the XXV Congress of the CPSU of 1976
The upcoming All-Belarusian People’s Assembly is reminiscent of the 25th Congress of the CPSU of 1976. It was also held on the eve of the adoption of a new constitution. To discuss the Constitution of the USSR in 1977, one and a half million meetings were held with the people, during which about 400K amendments and proposals were gathered.
I repeat, much has been done. And now the time has come to sum up what has already been accomplished. We begin from this when preparing the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR. This work is being carried out carefully, without haste, to weigh as accurately as possible every problem that arises and then bring the draft up for public discussion. But here, at the Congress, I would like to talk about the main points from which we proceed in this work. The new draft constitution should reflect the great victories of socialism, establishing not only the general principles of the socialist system but also expressing the essence of class of our government as well as the main features of a developed socialist society and its political organization. (Applause.)
Excerpt from the report of Comrade Sizov, Chairman of the Central Auditing Commission of the CPSU at the XXV Congress of the CPSU
As a result of this simulated constitutional process, more than 100 articles of basic Soviet law were amended. Among the most significant changes for Soviet residents include, for example, the renaming of Soviets of Deputies of Workers into Soviets of Deputies of the People.
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