Are constitutional reform and early elections waiting for Belarus?
A couple of months ago, such expectations were mainstream for both Belarusian and Russian political scientists.
The start of the changes was usually considered to be the next congress of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly, scheduled for February 11-12.
The opening of the meeting and the speech of self-proclaimed President Lukashenko showed that the authorities have changed their plans and are no longer going to make concessions to either the protesters or the Kremlin.
Let's try to understand what this means and what the consequences may be.
It has long been said that Lukashenko is considering the transit of power. Long before last year's presidential election and large-scale protests in Belarus.
And the All-Belarusian People's Assembly (HEI), the sixth meeting of a somewhat specific body first convened by Lukashenko in 1996, at the beginning of his rule, to fight the then opposition parliament, played a significant role in these plans.
Thanks to this meeting, Lukashenko was able to gain expanded powers by monopolizing all power in the country. Therefore, the next meetings were more decorative - once every five years, members of the "public" met in Minsk, approved the actions of the government and its proposed course for the coming years.
However, the onset of protests and the need for forced government reform have restored interest in universities. It was believed that Lukashenko would go for reform according to the Kazakh scenario, creating a permanent Politburo at the meeting and becoming its chairman.
Thus, in his new position, Lukashenko would retain much of his presidency, paving the way for early parliamentary and presidential elections.
The latter was actively encouraged by Russia, which saw the Belarusian protests as a chance to create alternative centers of power in Belarus and an opportunity to promote politicians who were more inclined to further integration than Lukashenko.
It is no coincidence, then, that the thesis of the need for constitutional changes and early elections as soon as possible was voiced during every conversation between Lukashenko and the Russians.
In essence, this became a condition of Russian support, without which the self-proclaimed president could not retain power.
Therefore, in November-December last year, such a scenario was considered the most likely. However, in recent months the situation has changed radically.
Lukashenko's new plan
It was known on the eve of the university that one should not expect rapid changes.
In particular, its organizers have already stated that the meeting received more than 6,000 proposals for constitutional changes from citizens. This meant that they were going to "talk" about this topic without making decisions.
However, Lukashenko's several-hour speech at the beginning of the meeting put an end to the "and".
He made it clear that he would not make quick political changes or make concessions to Russia.
In particular, the redistribution of power will be possible no earlier than next year. "During this year, the draft constitution will be ready, and it will be discussed publicly during the year. And at the beginning of next year, at least, we will put it to a referendum," Lukashenko promised.
However, he did not mention the possibility of early elections, which he had previously promised to hold immediately after the constitutional reform. Most likely, he simply decided to "forget" this promise.
Moreover, in his speech, Lukashenko voiced the conditions under which he is ready to hand over power, and fulfillment of these requirements in the near future is unlikely.
The main condition: peace, order, no protests in the country, to express an opinion - within the law… The second condition. it can't, "Lukashenko said.
At the same time, the self-proclaimed president confirmed that the transit of power will increase the powers of universities - the assembly should become a constitutional body that will be a stabilizer for the transition period.
In the same way, Lukashenko went to reverse his course for integration with Russia. More precisely, he returned to the usual strategy of "many promises - few real steps."
"The whole system of organs of the Union State has been created, and it has not yet worked out, it is viable, it cannot be dumped. Here is the whole answer. Let's go this way and see what the people will say. Maybe they will say that this is not enough. integration, we will go further. But it is impossible to jump over stages, it is impossible to overstrain a situation neither in Russia, and especially in Belarus ", - he declared.
What caused such a change in Lukashenko's rhetoric?
Dzyanis Melyantsou, an expert with the Minsk Dialogue independent initiative, attributes this to the fact that the Belarusian regime now feels much safer than a couple of months ago. "Although the protests did not go away, the protest activity dropped significantly in the winter. In addition, protests inside Russia divert the Kremlin's attention from Minsk and, as a result, reduce external pressure on Lukashenko," he explained.
Thus, according to the expert, Lukashenko has decided to abandon the model of urgent transit of power imposed on him. "However, the meeting confirmed that Lukashenko did not abandon the very idea of transit. He expects to stabilize the situation in the country and in such conditions to conduct something similar to Kazakh transit - to vacate the presidency, but retain key powers," Melyantsov added.
In anticipation of spring
Official Minsk has worked hard to portray the February 11-12 meeting as a kind of "congress of winners."
The meeting was to create a picture of victory not only over the protests inside the country, but also over the West.
It is significant that, mentioning the EU, Lukashenko said that they had already moved away from tough policy and were allegedly preparing to recognize him as president. As proof, he spoke about a recent letter from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, calling him "His Excellency the President of the Republic of Belarus."
"They write one thing and greet others in the West. They could have written to the 'ex-president', 'former president' or 'Belarusian people'. However, I am grateful that they understand who is the master of the house," Lukashenko said.
The European Commission promptly responded to this statement. It was reported there that the letter was dedicated to the postponement of the Eastern Partnership summit and was dated June 9 last year, when Lukashenko was still considered president.
The victory over the protests looks just as dubious.
The day before, Belarusian state media published the results of a poll commissioned by the state news agency BelTA, according to which the level of support for Lukashenko rose to 66.5%, and protests in the country do not support 72.4%.
The authorities rely on the results of this poll to say victory over the protests.
However, there is little reason to trust such sociology. In particular, a recent poll by Britain's Chatham House found that 27.4% of Belarusians support Lukashenko, less than the result of imprisoned presidential candidate Viktor Babariko (28.8%). Another quarter of Belarusians do not see trustworthy politicians, and the rest support other politicians who oppose Lukashenko.
Within a month, Lukashenko's victorious statements could be refuted by the resumption of mass protests in the spring. It is now thought that they will be less massive than in the autumn - a significant part of the active protesters are either imprisoned or abroad. However, Belarusian protests have repeatedly surprised skeptics.
And most importantly - Western sanctions have increased Minsk's dependence on financial assistance from Russia.
Currently, Minsk plans to receive the next Russian loan - worth more than $ 3 billion - in late February.
However, will this assistance last long? And is Russia ready to continue financing Lukashenko without counter-concessions on his part?
So it is clearly too early to talk about Lukashenko's victory. And it is possible that his speech at the All-Belarusian People's Assembly was just a session of complacency.
Author: Yuri Panchenko,
editor of "European Truth"
© 2014-2021, Європейська правда, eurointegration.com.ua