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Oct 18, 2020
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Constitutional reform in Belarus – prolongation of the social crisis

Constitutional changes will not solve the problems of Belarus

After two months of protests in Belarus, the republic's authorities announced the start of work on a constitutional reform, which should put an end to the acute social and political crisis in the country. However, the way this process is going suggests otherwise.

In Belarus, there are two opposing opinions on how and when to change the Constitution. On one pole - the authorities, on the other - the opposition, in which there are several currents. There is no talk of any "national dialogue" between the two.

A. Lukashenko spoke about the need to amend the Constitution a few years ago. Even then, he outlined a certain framework for this reform. The preparation of the changes was to be carried out by representatives of the Constitutional Court and parliamentarians. It was about the redistribution of powers within the government and the transfer of part of the burden from the president to parliament and local government bodies. There was no talk of any belittling of the president's role in the structure of government.

The situation that developed after the presidential elections on August 9 forced Lukashenko to correct his position, but did not change it cardinally. In particular, he spoke about changing not only the management structure, but also the electoral system, as well as the possibility of holding new presidential elections. All this, according to the Belarusian leader, should reduce the degree of tension and satisfy the demand for changes that has arisen in society. In addition, Moscow is also persuading to carry out the reform, which does not need a "color revolution" in Belarus with the prospect of the emergence of an anti-Russian government now in Minsk.

At the same time, Moscow realizes that without involving a part of the constructive opposition in the discussion, the dialogue will not work, and they hint to the Belarusian authorities that they need to listen to their opponents. The press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about this. Members of the so-called Coordination Council of the Belarusian opposition Maxim Bogretsov and Anton Rodnenkov were seen in the Russian capital, who met with some Russian experts there. Earlier, Moscow categorically rejected any opportunity to communicate with the Belarusian opposition at any level.

At the same time, recent events in Belarus show that the official Minsk does not intend to conduct a serious dialogue with anyone. The main directions of the reform have long been determined. This, in particular, is evidenced by the composition of the participants in the so-called dialogue platforms, where the authorities have been collecting the wishes of the Belarusians since the beginning of October. The proposals made at these sites indicate that the reform will not bring anything drastic to the Constitution.

It is planned that all proposals will be collected by October 25 and submitted to parliament for discussion. The version of the amendments prepared following the discussion will be sent to the All-Belarusian Assembly, which will be attended by members of the labor collectives of state enterprises and the so-called regional activists (representatives of the power vertical, veteran, women's and trade union organizations). What will happen after this, the authorities have not yet said. The only time a clear date for the adoption of the new Constitution was set at the end of August in Vienna at a special meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, dedicated to the situation in Belarus. Then the Belarusian side announced that amendments to the Fundamental Law of the Republic would be made by 2022.

On the dialogue platforms, which are organized throughout the country, you can see the heads of state administration bodies, chairmen of regional and district executive committees, deputies of local councils, presidential aides, leaders of public organizations and parties supporting the government, representatives of official trade unions, as well as “citizens with an active civic position ". It is almost impossible to meet opposition representatives at such venues. Whenever Lukashenka's opponents are given the opportunity to participate in the discussion, they are perceived as a destructive element. As a result, the dialogue fails. The government discusses the reform with itself, within the framework that it predetermines.

The blame for what is happening also lies with the opposition. Lukashenka's opponents disagree on whether it is worth taking part in the government's proposed reform. One part of the opposition, which has united around the headquarters of Viktor Babariko and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, believes that there can be no talk of any negotiations with Lukashenka. These have created their own Public Constitutional Commission and advocate a return to the 1994 version of the Constitution. Here the main condition for the reform is Lukashenka's resignation. A third of the opposition, where you can meet representatives of the old opposition parties, is ready to talk about reform. Apparently, the authorities are going to formally hold a conversation with them in order to show their international partners a "national dialogue".

In addition, the Belarusian authorities in an accelerated mode began to form an opposition under their control. The most accommodating part of Lukashenka's opponents was attracted, some were released from prison. In particular, we are talking about a former member of Babariko's election headquarters, businessman Yuriy Voskresensky, who was released after Alexander Lukashenko's trip to the KGB pre-trial detention center. A willingness to listen to opponents is demonstrated, but not everyone, but those who can be controlled.

However, the cunning scheme has not yet brought the expected effect. On the contrary, it aggravates the crisis that is smoldering in society. Most of Lukashenka's opponents do not believe in the possibility of reform under the current political regime.

In Belarus, many remember 1996, when a referendum was held on amendments to the Constitution. The referendum was preceded by a serious political crisis; Lukashenka's opponents agreed to his terms on a nationwide discussion of two versions of the Basic Law, for which they later paid. Since that time, the Belarusian leader's regime of personal power began to be strengthened and the country was gradually moving towards what today his opponents call a dictatorship. Therefore, the “new Belarusian opposition” headed by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Pavel Latushko and others who fled from Belarus calls not to succumb to the persuasions of the authorities and not to reduce the degree of tension. Tikhanovskaya even announced an ultimatum to Lukashenko, demanding that he resign in the near future.

At the same time, the opposition launched a campaign to discredit the country's leadership. In the media, social networks, telegram channels, there were many calls to abandon the dialogue with the authorities, to demand the return of the 1994 Constitution, to continue the fight against the regime until complete victory. The Golos platform, well-known after the presidential elections, which conducted Internet monitoring of the voting on August 9, launched an online survey on the constitutional reform: the main questions were about the withdrawal of Belarus from integration associations (with Russia) and about the status of the Belarusian language. All this could previously be seen in the Tikhanovskaya program, based on the development of nationalists. That is, the opposition again gets the opportunity to impose changes on the Belarusians that are far from the country's problems.

In this situation, it would be unjustified to say that the implementation of the constitutional reform in Belarus will lead to public consent. The opposing sides are not ready to listen to each other. The authorities and the opposition see the further development of Belarus in completely different ways. Some still consider it necessary to preserve the presidential republic with an orientation towards integration. Others advocate the transformation of the country, if not into a parliamentary, then into a parliamentary-presidential republic with the status of a neutral state. This means that the constitutional reforms in the form proposed by the parties will in no way become a solution to the problems of Belarus. So, what is next?

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