By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Belarus will hold a referendum on a new controversial constitution by February next year, authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka said.
Lukashenka made the announcement at a constitutional commission meeting on September 28, promising once again not to let the opposition come to power because they would “destroy the country.”
“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,” Lukashenka said.
However, he did not provide details of the draft constitution or the role that the All-Belarus People’s Assembly would assume.
In its current form, the All-Belarus People’s Assembly is a periodic gathering of loyalists that has no governing status under the laws. The country already has a rubber-stamp parliament.
Lukashenka’s opponents have called the attempt to rewrite the constitution a sham exercise to help him cling to power after the opposition rejected his victory in a presidential election in August 2020.
Experts doubt that there will be real changes.
“Lukashenka does not want to change the system. He intends for the regime to remain the same and that the current leaders will decide who is allowed power,” independent analyst Alyaksandr Klaskouski told RFE/RL’s Belarus Service.
“Naturally, only loyal supporters of the current government will be allowed to pass through this filter,” he added.
Belarus was engulfed by protests last year after a presidential election the opposition and West say was rigged.
In response, the government cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement, arresting thousands of people and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any fraud in the election and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on a political transition and new elections.
He has suggested in the past that he would be willing to step down only after changes to the constitution were made, but in recent months he stopped mentioning such a possibility.
The European Union, the United States, and several countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and other senior officials in response to the rigged vote and postelection crackdown.