Belarus has set February 27 for a referendum on constitutional amendments initiated by Alyaksandr Lukashenka that will allow him to further strengthen his authoritarian rule and remain in office until 2035.
The presidential office announced the date in a statement on January 20, with the referendum to ask voters: “Do you accept the amendments and additions to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus?”
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Lukashenka, 67, proposed amending the constitution following domestic and international backlash over the violent crackdown following the disputed August 2020 presidential election that he claims gave him a sixth consecutive term, but which the opposition and the West say was rigged.
His opponents have called the attempt to rewrite the constitution a sham exercise to help him cling to power amid Western sanctions and international isolation for Minsk’s crackdown.
The proposed changes would give Lukashenka immunity from prosecution and put in place a limit of two terms in office, each for five years. However, the restrictions would only apply going forward, meaning Lukashenka could rule until he is 81 years old.
The amendments would also weaken the current rubber-stamp parliament and strengthen the role of the All-Belarus People’s Assembly, a periodic gathering of loyalists that currently has no governing status under the law.
The assembly would act as a parallel structure next to parliament, holding wide-ranging powers to approve foreign, security, and economic policy. It would also be able to propose changes to the constitution, draft laws, and select members of the country’s Central Election Commission and judges of the top courts.
According to the proposed amendments, a sitting president automatically becomes a delegate of the 1,200-seat assembly and may chair it, if elected by other delegates.
The amendments would also prohibit anyone who temporarily left the country in the last 20 years from becoming president, a change that appears to be aimed directly at opposition members, many of whom were forced into exile to avoid political persecution.
The February plebiscite will be the fourth held under Lukashenka. In two of the previous referendums, he also consolidated power, while the third vote was on changing the national flag.