The second round of talks between the administration of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the legitimate parliamentary leadership, mediated by the European Union, broke down on its fourth day on July 18. The talks in Minsk failed to overcome procedural disagreements over the composition of the delegations and the mandate of the talks — issues that had also plagued the first round of talks in June.
The goal of the dialogue is broadly defined as improving the country’s constitutional setup, particularly the relationship among the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of power. The presidential side has insisted on proceeding from the constitution and parliament put together by Lukashenka in November-December of 1996. The legitimate parliamentary leaders, for their part, have defended the continuity of the constitution and parliament that were eliminated by Lukashenka. The chairman of the forcibly dissolved parliament, Syamyon Sharetski, made public a demand to Lukashenka to stop judicial proceedings against participants in opposition demonstrations, to allow the opposition access to the mass media, and to recognize the parliament that was disbanded last December. The disagreements over procedures in fact reflect fundamental political differences.
EU mediators have proposed a "zero option" whereby European organizations, the Council of Europe first and foremost, would draft from scratch the main provisions of a new constitutions. The EU plan also envisages new elections following a negotiated agreement on a new constitution. EU mediators have warned that they would withdraw from the talks if the deadlock persists at the third round, which is scheduled for July 29-30.
Lukashenka, meanwhile, has rejected a Polish proposal to hold a round table meeting of government and opposition leaders with Polish participation. Warsaw’s plan envisaged follow-up meetings that would have institutionalized the forum as a "permanent round-table." The Polish Foreign Ministry expressed "regret over the Belarusan authorities’ lack of understanding" for the proposal. (Belapan, Russian agencies, PAP, July 18-20)
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