KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The authoritarian leader of Belarus on Tuesday announced a referendum on a new constitution to be held in February 2022 and vowed not to let the opposition come to power, a move analysts say could further cement his grip on power after months of mass protests.
President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday a new constitution had been drafted that redistributes powers between the main branches of the government and establishes a new governing body — the All-Belarus People’s Assembly.
“The changes are aimed at making the Constitution more harmonized and balanced by redistributing the powers of the president, the parliament and the government and establishing a constitutional status for the All-Belarus People’s Assembly,” Lukashenko said.
He didn’t offer details about the proposed bill or the role that the All-Belarus People’s Assembly would assume — there is currently no such governing body in Belarusian law but there is a parliament already.
Lukashenko has said earlier that he would step down as president — a post he has occupied for over a quarter century — once the new constitution is adopted, but in recent months he stopped mentioning such a possibility.
“The people will make the final decision, the referendum will take place no later than February next year,” Lukashenko said.
During his 27 years leading the former Soviet republic, Lukashenko has held three referendums, abolishing limits on presidential terms, amending the constitution and bringing back Soviet-looking state symbols.
Belarus was rocked by months of protests fueled by Lukashenko’s being awarded a sixth term after the August 2020 presidential vote that the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. He responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested, thousands beaten by police and other forced to seek refuge abroad.
The Belarus opposition and international organizations have proposed talks between the government and the opposition under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but Belarusian authorities rejected the proposals.
Lukashenko on Tuesday once again promised not to let the opposition come to power, claiming they would “destroy the country.”
“Lukashenko doesn’t plan on going anywhere, he is ramping up repressions in order to secure a referendum result he needs,” independent analyst Valery Karbalevich said. “The Kremlin helped him hold on to power, and the referendum is necessary to cement that.”
Follow all AP developments on Belarus athttps://apnews.com/hub/Belarus.