The National Assembly of unelected delegates will meet in February for the first time since 2016, but critics remain skeptical.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says a National Assembly of unelected delegates will meet in February for the first time since 2016 – as part of a reform plan that critics see as a blocking tactic to overcome a political crisis .
Belarus has been rocked by mass protests since the August 9 presidential election marred by allegations of electoral fraud.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, dismissed criticism while presiding over sweeping repression in the former Soviet republic.
Facing the biggest crisis of his reign, Lukashenko suggested constitutional reforms – publicly supported by Russia’s traditional ally – that could reduce presidential powers.
He gave few details, but said decisions to redistribute those powers could be taken at a meeting of the National Assembly, a political body without formal power itself, but which Lukashenko said could soon to be allowed.
The body usually meets every five years and brings together several thousand delegates whose candidacies are presented by local state councils, pro-Lukashenko parties and Soviet-style workers’ groups in the managed economy.
Lukashenko’s political opponents, the most important of whom have been jailed or fled the country, have rejected the reform proposals as a blocking tactic to help him overcome the protests.
Lukashenko said the process for selecting delegates will begin on Tuesday. “It should be people who represent all walks of life and all groups of the population, all the Belarusian people,” he said.
The National Assembly itself would meet on February 11 and 12.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly urged Lukashenko to engage in dialogue with opposing forces in Belarus.
The two leaders met in September at a summit in which Lukashenko spoke publicly about the launch of reforms.
“It is possible that Lukashenko is trying with the help of this assembly to sabotage the constitutional reform he seemed to promise in the Kremlin in September,” said Alexander Klaskovsky, political analyst.