, changes to the fundamental law should be instituted openly—this is the only way for them to be legitimate. Propagandists insist
that the amendments voted on in the last referendum were discussed by groups of concerned citizens. But it’s obvious that the government was not particularly interested
in public opinion.
One way to adopt a new Constitution would be to convene a special assembly following open elections. Likewise, the Constitution could be drafted by a new and democratically elected parliament. In both these scenarios, there is still a risk that if any one side gets barely enough votes to form a majority, it will immediately rewrite the Constitution to fit its own interests. One solution to this problem could be laws stipulating a super-majority to pass a new Constitution. In any case, the ultimate decision on any amendments should be based on the results of a national referendum.Second
, Belarusians should not delude themselves into thinking that a transition to parliamentarianism would automatically lead to democracy. Although this type of political system may seem like the most European and democratic option, it doesn’t guarantee fairness and stability. Prime ministers in parliamentary republics have broad powers that they can abuse when their party receives an elected majority. Such a development is likely when a country lacks democratic traditions. One example is Hungary, which has ceased to be a full-fledged democracy
In fact, politicians in the post-Soviet space have used a transition to parliamentarianism as a means of holding on to personal power: after serving two terms, presidents in Georgia
have attempted to reinvent themselves as prime ministers in order to further strengthen their grip on power.
Rather than a parliamentary republic, one more sensible model might feature a strong president AND prime minister; this is especially important if one of these institutions is vulnerable to foreign interference. The political system would thus have at least two centers keeping each other in check, preventing the other from shoring up too much power. For example, after the revolutions in the mid-2000s, Ukraine rewrote its constitution and chose a presidential model (with a strong prime minister). This strengthened
systemic political competition.
Belarus could also opt for the American model, where presidential power is kept in check by congress, which the head of state cannot dissolve. This is one of the foundations of the famous “system of checks and balances” that has preserved democracy in the US for more than two centuries now.Third
, in order to avoid a concentration of power in the hands of one person, Belarus needs more local government. Governors and mayors should be elected positions, and their powers, as well as the role of local parliaments—should be significantly expanded. Democratic and economically successful societies cannot grow without grassroots initiatives.Fourth
, given the significance of propaganda in all authoritarian regimes, the independence of the media must be guaranteed. This could be accomplished by appointing a commission with broad powers composed of representatives of various media outlets. Its mission would be to ensure that journalists are not subject to pressure.
Finally, the key provisions of the democratic constitution must be protected from frequent rewriting: the processes for holding elections or choosing judges should not be easy to change. One option would be to require amendments to these articles to obtain the consent of an absolute majority in parliament and subsequently be approved via referendum. Viktor Orbán and his Fidezs party were able to usurp power
in Hungary thanks largely to how easy it was to amend the constitution in parliament.
What will become of our Constitution after Lukashenka’s departure is, of course, an open question. But Belarus is hardly the first country that will have had to rewrite its Constitution for the sake of democratic change. The key is to avoid repeating our own mistakes, as well as those of others. And most importantly, we must ensure that the Constitution is respected, which is our biggest problem today.