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Why is the All-Belarusian People's Assembly formed in Belarus?

The formation of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly has begun in Belarus. DW explains who will be part of the new constitutional body and why it will not become an “honorary pension” for Lukashenko, as previously planned


"This is the 7th convocation, but it is special. It is constitutional," stated Alexander Lukashenko during a meeting on preparations for the All-Belarusian People's Assembly (ABPA). The nomination process for candidates to the new constitutional body has already begun and will continue until March 31. According to Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko, the first meeting of the ABPA will take place on April 24-25.

Initially, the ABPA was intended to facilitate the transfer of power in Belarus and serve as an honorary position for Lukashenko. However, under the new Constitution, the All-Belarusian People's Assembly will possess significant powers, assuming some functions of the president and other government entities. These powers include initiating amendments to the Constitution, evaluating the legitimacy of elections, declaring a state of emergency, and even removing the president. How is the nomination process for candidates to the All-Belarusian People's Assembly proceeding, and what role will Lukashenko, who has no intention of stepping down, assign to the new body?

The people do not participate in the formation of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly

Political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky
Political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky Photo: privat

Despite the inclusion of the word "People's" in its name, the people do not have any nominal or actual involvement in the formation of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly, notes  Alexander Klaskovsky, political analyst of the Pozirk news agency. "During the February elections (for parliament and local councils–Ed.), although the outcome was predetermined, people still went to the polling stations and cast their votes, thus fulfilling the ritual. However, the All-Belarusian People's Assembly is formed exclusively by governmental officials," explains the expert.

In total, there should be 1,200 candidates for the ABPA, with one-third of them being representatives of local authorities at various levels. The composition of the ABPA began immediately after the Unified Voting Day on February 25, and newly elected House of Representatives MPs automatically become delegates of the ABPA. Additionally, members of the Council of the Republic (the upper chamber of the Parliament), who are expected to be appointed soon, will also be part of the ABPA. Members of local councils, who obtained mandates during the elections on February 25, must choose their representatives as delegates to the ABPA.

The second third of the ABPA delegates consists of senior Belarusian officials, including Alexander Lukashenko, as well as representatives from the executive and judicial branches. The remaining third is composed of the so-called "civil society." The Ministry of Justice has already identified five public associations entitled to delegate their representatives to the ABPA: "Belaya Rus," the Belarusian National Youth Union, the Belarusian Women's Union, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, and the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans.

"In a metaphorical sense, the system is retreating into itself. The people have become superfluous. The people, who demanded fair elections in 2020, now frighten and irritate Lukashenko. Thus, he aims to shield this new body, empowered by the new Constitution, even from the indirect influence of the people's will," comments Klaskovsky regarding the principle behind the formation of the ABPA.

The ABPA is the "fifth wheel" in the power system

When discussions of constitutional reform first began, and the ABPA gained the status of a constitutional body, many believed that Russia was pushing for changes to the constitution to ensure a smooth transition of power in Belarus. It was assumed that Lukashenko would take on the role of chairman of the ABPA, and early presidential elections would be organized – Lukashenko himself did not rule out this possibility.

"However, the situation has changed, he was able to solidify control in society and regain control of the state through repressive methods. He no longer needs this transition," says Artsiom Brukhan, an analyst at the National Anti-Crisis Management. According to him, the ABPA has now become "the dog's fifth leg" for Lukashenko, as he fails to understand why such a system should be created, though the initial agreement had to be fulfilled.

NAM analyst Artsiom Brukhan
NAM analyst Artsiom Brukhan Photo: NAM-media

Brukhan argues that Lukashenko's misunderstanding of the role of the ABPA in Belarus' political system is evident in his statement: "The ABPA must find its place but not interfere with the president." "This means that the body has been created, but Lukashenko is still discussing its essence. There are no plans for a transition now, but they may be considering its use in the future. Although I wouldn't be surprised if he later removes the ABPA from the constitution altogether," adds Artsiom Brukhan.

Klaskovsky, on the other hand, notes that the issue of a transition has become irrelevant due to the repression in the country and the full-scale war in Ukraine, which eliminates the need for Putin to change Lukashenko. Additionally, Lukashenko himself is unlikely to want to experiment with a transition, considering the experience in Kazakhstan.

The extensive powers of the ABPA create the problem of dual power

Given that the constitution grants the ABPA "thermonuclear powers," as described by Klaskovsky, this potentially creates a dilemma of dual power and a competition with the president's functions. "Lukashenko, as an experienced individual, understands very well that a state cannot have two powers. He himself has created a system of dual power, and as a result, he is concerned about which center will gain influence within the nomenklatura," explains Brukhan.

According to both analysts, Lukashenko intends to resolve this dilemma in his own way – by assuming the role of the ABPA chairman, as permitted by the constitution, while also holding the position of president.

"If, for some reason, Lukashenko is unable to fulfill his duties, then the ABPA could genuinely become an instrument of power struggle, given its broad powers. Lukashenko recognizes this danger, but for now, he pushes these thoughts away, relying on his physical resources and re-election in 2025," says Klaskovsky.

The ABPA, similar to the congresses of the CPSU, is not intended for discussions

Nevertheless, officials also encounter the challenge of determining the role of the ABPA in Belarus' power system, considering all the circumstances. For instance, Vadim Gigin, the director general of the National Library, suggested incorporating the fundamental principles of the Belarusian state ideology into the ABPA. However, Alexander Klaskovsky holds the belief that the ABPA will not possess any distinctive or exceptional role or functions.

"It seems that they simply included this powerful body in the constitution and are now struggling to figure out what to do with it. Hence, the discussions about approving state ideology in the ABPA. It is evident that with the current composition of loyalists and individuals devoted to the leader, expecting any discussions or alternative opinions is quite naive. Everyone will raise their hands in agreement, just like at the congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union," states the analyst.

Brukhan suggests that Belarus' democratic forces, who have already criticized the ABPA as undemocratic for consolidating Lukashenko's illegitimate power, should prepare for the next electoral campaign, the upcoming presidential elections in 2025. "We must prevent the regime from carrying out the next campaign calmly and without any problems, as they have planned. After all, silence is the ideal environment for a dictatorship."



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