Belarusian authorities have released a draft document proposing amendments to the country’s constitution that may allow authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to further consolidate his grip on power and remain in office until 2035.
The proposed amendments were posted Monday on the president’s official website and on the website of the state news agency Belta.
Belarusians were encouraged to submit their comments, suggestions and opinions on the changes.
Lukashenko did not comment on the amendments, but state television showed him attending a special New Year’s Eve celebration for children in the main hall of the Palace of the Republic in Minsk.
The charity event is part of the annual ‘Our Children’ campaign, which runs from mid-December to mid-January in support of children in need.
The constitutional amendments that are being proposed restore presidential term limits that had been abolished during Lukashenko’s tenure, allowing a president only two five-year terms in office.
However, the restriction will only take effect once a “newly elected president” takes office, giving Lukashenko a chance to run for two more terms after his current term expires in 2025.
“Lukashenko made his way to the presidency until at least 2035, when he will be 81 years old,” said independent political analyst Valery Karbalevich.
During his 27 years at the helm of the former Soviet republic with an iron fist, Lukashenko has held three referendums, abolishing presidential term limits, amending the constitution and recovering Soviet-looking state symbols.
Belarus was rocked by months of unprecedented mass protests after Lukashenko won a sixth consecutive term in office in the August 2020 presidential vote, which the opposition and the West denounced as a sham.
The Belarusian leader responded to the demonstrations with a brutal crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested, thousands beaten by police and many forced to seek refuge abroad.
“The proposed constitutional changes were being drafted during the upheaval when Lukashenko realized that he had lost the support of the majority of the country’s urban population,” Karbalevich noted.
“The new governing body, the Belarusian People’s Assembly, was designed as a backup plan for the authoritarian leader if he is forced to resign as president,” he added.
Other changes to the constitution include the extension of the parliament’s term from four to five years and the introduction of the Belarusian People’s Assembly as a new body that will operate in parallel with the parliament.
Another change would grant former presidents immunity from prosecution for actions they took while in office.
The amendments also remove the clauses on Belarus’s “neutrality” and “non-nuclear state”.
Last month, Lukashenko offered to host Russia’s nuclear weapons if NATO moves US atomic bombs from Germany to Eastern Europe, the latest in a series of measures aimed at consolidating ties with Moscow.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran against Lukashenko in the August 2020 elections and was pressured to leave the country shortly after, has criticized the proposed amendments.
Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement on Telegram that Belarusians are offered a choice “between Lukashenko and Lukashenko.”
“It is a lie that no one will believe. Choosing between Lukashenko and Lukashenko is impossible. And we will not choose him as we did not choose him last year,” he said.
Tsikhnaouskaya added that “Lukashenko is trying to prescribe immunity from criminal prosecution, powers to strip Belarusians of their citizenship and appoint a new Politburo incorporated into the Belarusian People’s Assembly that no one has elected.”
He urged Belarusians to “cross all proposed options off the ballot.”
The amendments will be put to a referendum, scheduled for February 2022.
They will be considered approved if more than 50% vote on them, with a participation threshold of 50%.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism