Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 220

Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko today signed with his main antagonists, parliament chairman Syamyon Sharetsky and Constitutional Court chairman Valery Tsikhinya, a political agreement designed to end the constitutional confrontation in Belarus. Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the chairmen of Russia’s Federation Council and Duma, Yegor Stroyev and Gennady Seleznev, mediated the agreement reached during all-night talks in Minsk.

The agreement provides that the constitutional referendum, officially scheduled for November 24 but started by Lukashenko already on November 9, will be carried through to completion as Lukashenko desires. But its result will only be advisory, as the Constitutional Court and the parliament had resolved. The Court and parliament, in turn, will halt the impeachment proceedings that they had begun against Lukashenko because of his unlawful organization and conduct of the referendum. Within 20 days a Constituent Assembly comprised of 50 parliamentary deputies and 50 presidential appointees will convene in order to consider the president’s and the parliament’s constitutional drafts, and to adopt a new constitution based on the draft that receives more votes. This morning’s agreement, presented as a "compromise" between president and parliament, was blessed by the Supreme Council of the Russia-Belarus Community, in the persons of Chernomyrdin, Stroyev, Seleznev, Lukashenko, and Sharetsky. (Itar-Tass, Western agencies, November 22)

The agreement rescues Lukashenko from the pariah status that loomed following his defiance of 17 Constitutional Court verdicts invalidating presidential decrees. It accepts as valid, even if nonbinding, the results of a farcical referendum totally controlled by the president and one whose results had been dismissed in advance by all concerned — including the Belarus parliament — with the exception of Lukashenko and Moscow. It spells the end of the existing constitution, the main legal guarantee against presidential authoritarianism. It skews the Constituent Assembly’s composition heavily in favor of Lukashenko, preprogramming a substantial increase in Lukashenko’s powers at parliament’s expense.

Today’s agreement best suits Moscow’s goal of ensuring Lukashenko’s victory in a manner that does not appear undemocratic and that could place parliamentary leaders in the tow of Lukashenko’s drive for "reintegration" with Russia. It could also complicate Western efforts to support pro-independence forces in the parliament, and is likely to split the coalition of establishment elements and extraparliamentary national-democratic groups that had coalesced in opposition to Lukashenko’s policy.

Ukrainian Economic Reform Program.