The Belarus supreme soviet on September 7 passed by 167 to 2 a statement accusing president Aleksandr Lukashenko and his cabinet of creating a political confrontation with the legislature against a backdrop of economic deterioration and social discontent. The statement described the executive’s recent decisions to unilaterally amend the budget, lift parliamentary immunity, and suspend trade unions as the latest in a long series of violations of the constitution and the laws; and it termed the cabinet’s unwillingness to report to parliament on the execution of the budget and the prime minister’s and finance minister’s refusal to appear before parliament as extreme contempt of the legislature. The statement demanded that the president and cabinet abide by the constitution and legislation. In a speech to the chamber the same day, chairman Mecislau Hrib said that constitutional power-sharing in Belarus had collapsed as the president was usurping legislative functions. The day before, Hrib had petitioned the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the president’s most recent decrees.
The Supreme Soviet is not in a strong position to resist an authoritarian presidency. Itself a holdover institution from the communist era, originally elected in 1990, almost half of its seats are vacant because of voter absenteeism in the elections held earlier this year. Repeat elections for the unfilled seats are due in November amid fears that the turnout will remain below the 50 percent required to validate elections. The chamber has voted to lower the requirement to 25 percent, but Lukashenko has responded by threatening to withhold financing if elections are conducted on that basis. The crisis at least gives the small democratic opposition grouped around the Popular Front an opportunity to increase its weight by coalescing with Soviet-era holdovers interested in protecting legislative prerogative or at least their turf against Lukashenko’s bid for personal power. (13)
Baltic Summit Focuses on Common Security.