Belarus' Lukashenko Pushes Changes to Constitution, Vows to Not Let Opposition Gain Power

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday proposed a newly configured constitution and pledged to prevent opposition groups and individuals from gaining power in the country, the Associated Press reported.

Lukashenko said the government had drafted a new constitution, to go into effect in February 2022, that would redistribute power among Belarus' primary government branches. The changes would also introduce a new governing body called the All-Belarus People's Assembly.

After months of widespread protests against his regime, the move could help the authoritarian president strengthen his hold on power, analysts say, according to the AP.

Lukashenko did not provide further details on the assembly or proposed constitutional changes. He said that 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."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lukashenko Pushes Constitution Changes
The leader of Belarus announced a referendum on a new constitution in February 2022 and vowed to not let the opposition come to power. Above, President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during an expanded meeting of the Constitutional Commission in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday. Maxim Guchek/BeITA photo via AP

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 others 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."

Proposed Belarus Constitution Changes
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a meeting of the Constitutional Commission in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday. Maxim Guchek/BeITA photo via AP