Constitution and legislation

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Constitution and legislation

Belarus’ system of government is based on the authoritarian style of the rule of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Belarus is not a democratic state based on the rule of law: according to Freedom House Belarus has not been a free country for a long time and is not an electoral democracy.

Even by post-Soviet standards the political power in Belarus is an extravagant example of the charismatic authoritarian leadership of populist president Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Having democratically won the presidential elections in the fourth year of the independent Belarus in 1994, he has been maintaining power over the last eighteen years by manipulating the voting and constitutional procedures, destroying the principle of division of powers and bringing the judicial system and media under total control. 

In 1991-1995, the freshly independent Belarus developed a new Constitution which served to set up institutions. The most heated debates concerned whether to introduce a position of a “strong” president or preserve a strong parliamentary system.

In the end, the choice was made in favour of the first pattern and on March 15, 1994 the Supreme Council adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus according to which it is declared to be a unitary, democratic, social state based on the rule of law, the President as the Head of State and its executive power, separated from the legislative and judicial powers.

In June and July 1994, a two-round presidential election took place. Following the results of nation-wide voting, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a non-party populist, was elected as the President of Belarus. Those elections determined the nature of the power in the state for many years.

In 1995 a referendum was called on the initiative of the President. Following the results of the referendum the white-red-white flag and coat of arms Pahonia (‘The Chase’), inspired by traditions reaching back to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, were replaced by a new flag and coat of arms as national symbols strongly resembling those of the Soviet Belarus.

In 1996 President Lukashenka initiated a new referendum concerning constitutional alterations but the Parliament considered President’s actions to be an attempt to extend his powers. Opposition deputies began to collect signatures to initiate an impeachment procedure. But the conflict was resolved through the intermediary of Russian politicians.

Nevertheless, the referendum concerning constitutional alterations was held on November 24, 1996: the power structure changed, presidential powers extended, his power was set beyond the principle of division of powers, he was granted greater powers in lawmaking as well as in the appointment of judges and government officials.

In October 2004 one more referendum eliminated the restrictions concerning two terms in office which gave the President the opportunity to run in elections and to be elected an unlimited number of times.

During Lukashenka’s presidency, none of the referenda or elections were recognized by foreign observers or opposition as free and independent.

Regardless of the numerous constitutional alterations, de facto its provisions in the Belarusian legal system have no direct force. The citizens cannot bring a court action for the violation of constitutional rights and guarantees before the Constitutional Court or any other court. The President’s decrees and edicts directly breaching the constitutional provisions are still effective.

Belarus is not a rule-of-law state either: the President’s decrees and edicts have greater legal force than the laws enacted by the Parliament. The President constantly exercises these powers as a practical matter including active enacting secret edicts which are not published in the media. Considering that social life is regulated non-publicly by a single person and, as a rule, with no public discussion of a proposed law, the regulatory environment of social life in Belarus is marked by regular surprises. Belarusian laws could be found here.

Yury Chaussov, political scientist

Author: Handbook on Belarus for International journalists

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