A quarter of the century ago, the Constitution of Belarus was born. Its history mirrors the history of the country. On its anniversary, we recall how it was created, changed over the years and has become what it is now.
In the twilight of communism in Belarus, the Constitution of 1978 was in force.
Before the *Supreme Council of the BSSR declared the country’s independence, on June 22, 1990, it had already established a constitutional commission to write a new Basic Law.
A month later 61 deputies and 13 legal experts started to work on the fundamental law of the state.
*The Supreme Court functioned as permanent parliament in 1990-1996.
The balance between the branches of government, specifically, the level of the president’s authority was the underlying dispute at the time.
Will he be the head of state alone or the head of the executive branch as well? At various times, there were about 10 drafts of the Constitution with different answers to the question.
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The one created in 1992 didn’t provide for the presidency at all. If it were approved, Belarus would become a parliamentary republic with a legislative body of 120 people.
In its original form, the Constitution did not last long. The conflict between the branches of government started in 1995.
The constitutional court formed by the Supreme Council, actively canceled presidential decrees as unconstitutional. In response, Alexander Lukashenko ordered that state bodies comply with his decrees contrary to the decisions of the Constitutional Court.
In 1996, the Constitutional Court accused the president of violating the Constitution and the principle of separation of powers. Later the relations between the president and the parliament adjusted but not for long.
In August, Lukashenko initiated a referendum to change the Constitution that would grant the president broader powers. The conflict between the branches of power reached a climax.
Early voting started even before the presidential draft constitution was published. Lukashenko removed the head of the CEC and appointed a new one.
The constitution did not give Lukashenko the authority to dismiss the head of the CEC, it was the right of parliament. The ideological opponents – the communists, farmers and democrats – united to begin the impeachment procedure.
They collected signatures and transferred them to the Constitutional Court. Lukashenka again declared the referendum mandatory. According to official data, the presidential version of the Constitution won the vote.
The opposition accused the government of fraud and violations. The Constitutional Court terminated the impeachment case. The Supreme Council was dissolved and the bicameral National Assembly was formed.
Was there any chance?
Although, according to the 1994 Constitution, the president was the Chief Executive, the parliament was stronger.
Many experts believe the Constitution of 1994 failed the stress and the conflict between the president and the parliament was not inevitable.
Despite the president was given considerable authority, he wasn’t able to influence the parliament. And the Supreme Council could ask the president to resign.
Then and now
The president received the right to issue decrees and edicts, exceeding the legal force of the law; appoint referendums and key officials in the country; and dissolve parliament.
The procedure for the dissolution of parliament was simplified, whereas the procedure of impeachment was made more complicated.
“The possibility to restrict the right to information” was included in the Constitution in order “to protect honor, dignity, private and family life of citizens and the full implementation of their rights”.
Other changes regarded religion, local administration, the rights of women and youth, safety of bank accounts, and civil construction.
In 2004, Alexander Lukashenko initiated another referendum on amending the Constitution. According to its results, the two-term limit for the president was excluded from the Basic Law.