Parliament: Instrumentalization and limited functionality

Tatiana Chulitskaya


The proposed amendments to the Constitution of Belarus formally expanded the powers of the parliament, yet they could not bring about real changes in its role. The parliament still rarely acts as a subject of lawmaking, mainly serving the executive branch and the president. At the same time, parliamentarians passed a number of laws in 2021, which restricted civil and political rights of the population.

International activities of the parliament in the relationship with the West are significantly limited, and are mainly focused on Russia and the post-Soviet countries.

Parliament in updated Constitution

Amendments to the Constitution, which formally expanded the powers of the parliament and extend its term limit from four to five years, were actively worked on in 2021. Following Russia’s example, Belarus set a single day of voting (the last Sunday of February). It is worthy of note that the latter innovation in the draft amendments, although it was only under consideration, mothered the idea to cancel the local elections previously scheduled for January 20221, apparently, because the authorities did not want to open even a smallest window of opportunity for the political engagement of society, even in a campaign as insignificant as local elections.

It was decided to call both the next local and parliamentary elections simultaneously in 2024. Until then, both parliament chambers and local councils will continue working in the old composition and according to the previous regulations.

A new provision was adopted to regulate the status of MPs: a member of the House of Representatives cannot be a member of the government (Art. 92). Art. 95 provides for one session instead of two. The requirement for the number of MPs for a session quorum was changed (Art. 103): a simple majority may be required, instead of 2/3 of the lower chamber.

The new version did give some additional powers to MPs. For example, a paragraph was introduced on considering bills on the national budget and reports on its execution in the House of Representatives. Among the topics that were widely debated in the expert community and media was the prior consent of both chambers to appoint a prime minister (previously only the House of Representatives had the right to support a candidacy even post factum). At the same time, the president has the right to dissolve the parliament if it refuses twice to approve the appointment of the proposed prime minister.

Accordingly, in practice, the changed wording is unlikely to lead to a more proactive position of the parliament in appointment matters.

Also, there is an innovation about hearing reports to be made by the prosecutor general and heads of the State Control Committee and the National Bank in the parliament. The powers of the Council of the Republic (the upper chamber) in relation to local councils were expanded: in addition to the revocation of their decisions, there is a possibility to assess their activities and “take measures to develop local self-government” (Art. 93.5).

The parliament no longer has the power to bring charges against the president for committing treason or other grave crimes (it is now vested in the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly), and the Council of the Republic has no power to elect judges of the Constitutional Court (previously Art. 98.3) or members of the Central Election Commission (Art. 98.4).

Additional restrictions are also set for activities of the House of Representatives: according to Art. 99, an opinion of the government on the bills related to changes in public expenditures is required now.

Art. 91 of the new wording says, “a former president shall become a member of the Council of the Republic for life by his consent”. This means that Alexander Lukashenko will become a parliament member, should he step down as president for any reason.

In general, it is safe to say that the updated Constitution will not give the Belarusian parliament any real new powers and, in some cases, even abolish some of them.

Non-priority: parliament’s lawmaking functions

The year 2021 showed again that the Belarusian parliamentarians were not proactive lawmakers.2 Over the year, the MPs only put four projects on the legislative agenda. One of them concerned health care regulation, particularly the introduction of gratuitous organ donation.3

Three other bills initiated by the MPs aimed at toughening criminal and administrative responsibility. Perhaps the most high-profile one was the bill “On the Genocide of the Belarusian People” introduced by former Minister of Information Lilia Ananich at the end of the year. Officially, the bill is meant to “preserve the historical memory, enhance national security, and counteract falsification of the events and results of World War II”.4 In practice, it provides for criminal liability for the “denial of genocide of the Belarusian people”, which carries a prison term of three to 10 years. The House passed the bill quickly and unanimously, and so did the upper chamber.

The next punitive initiative of the Belarusian parliamentarians was the bill “On Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus” passed by the House of Representatives on November 9, 2021. It is characteristic that it was introduced by retired army officer Oleg Belokonev.

The proposed and quickly adopted amendments concerned criminal liability for appeals to sanctions against Belarus. This bill logically followed the statements and instructions given by Lukashenko5, and toughened the liability under all paragraphs of section 361 of the Criminal Code (calls for actions aimed at harming national security of the Republic of Belarus). In the spirit of the Cold War rhetoric, the MPs justified the passing of the bill, saying that it was needed to “pose a legislative barrier to calls for sanctions against the country as one of the elements of modern hybrid warfare”.6 This enables Lukashenko and his Administration to open new criminal cases against any political opponents.

In a similar way, at the end of the year, the MPs developed and passed in two readings at once the bill “On Amendments to the Codes”, adding section 193-1 to the Criminal Code, a reincarnation of liability for activities on behalf of an unregistered organization, which was abolished in 2019. The return of this provision is obviously linked to the wave of repressions against organized civil society and new grassroots initiatives that emerged in 2020.

The liability for fundraising and application of funds was an important component, which provided an additional tool for limiting crowdfunding practices, which were very popular during the period of liberalization in Belarus, and, among other things, were used to pay fines on behalf of the victims of repressions.

Apart from these clear examples, on the whole, the Belarusian parliament remained prone to passivity, and only followed the line established by the executive branch.

MPs’ initiatives and responses

In 2021, the parliament remained passive in terms of lawmaking initiatives, and only livened up when supporting Lukashenko’s proposals. His decree No.2 “On Protection of Sovereignty and Constitutional Order” was widely discussed and quickly supported by parliamentarians. The decree changed the configuration of the state administration system and the distribution of powers in case of the president’s death, and expanded the powers of the Security Council. These changes were basically introduced as just a notification, and were expectedly supported and approved.

Also, MPs came out with politically-motivated initiatives aimed at discrediting Lukashenko’s political opponents. Vyacheslav Orlovsky of the organized crime and corruption police unit proposed in October to terminate citizenship of the opponents of the regime, who left the country. This idea was well received by the parliament. In particular, it was seconded by Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee of the House of Representatives for National Security Igor Martynov and Chairman of the pro-government Belaya Rus (“White Russia”) NGO Gennady Davydko.7

Andrei Savinykh, Chairman of the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs was one of the most publicly active members of the lower chamber in 2021. Obliged by his position, he commented on the most pressing issues, and rebroadcasted the main international agenda narratives (in particular, during the acute phase of the migration crisis). His comment on the recognition of Crimea by Belarus as a “de facto and de jure Russian territory”8 stirred up the public the most. Russia thus pointed at Savinykh’s low political status. Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that such statements were expected from the formal head of state (president), rather than the parliament, as setting the political course is beyond its jurisdiction.9

MP Oleg Gaidukevich, Chairman of the pro-governmental Liberal Democratic Party, was also among the newsmakers. He claimed in summer 2021 that Molotov cocktails were thrown at his house, and it was “pure luck” that none of his family members was injured.10 This story was widely covered by the media, both pro-government and independent, and for the latter, it was a subject of many jokes. Because of their initiatives and the peculiar narrative and arguing style, the Belarusian audience tends to find many parliamentarians bitterly entertaining, rather than worthy of respect as real political figures.

The appointment of former head of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation Dmitry Baskov to the upper chamber was a high-profile piece of news. Baskov was previously disqualified by the IIHF for discriminating against athletes, and, as many believed, he was somehow involved in the murder of Roman Bondarenko in 2020. Lukashenko personally appointed him to the Council of the Republic, apparently, in gratitude for his loyalty.

International single-vector activities

Due to the overall political cycle and a sharp reduction in international contacts with the Lukashenko regime, international activities of the Belarusian parliament were limited both geographically and thematically. The Belarusian MPs had to focus on the few international organizations and national governments they were still able to communicate with, such as the UN and OSCE. Contacts with the UN were merely tokenistic, like the participation in seminars on pandemic relief measures.11 The MPs, however, managed to organize events of their own at the UN. For example, on July 9, Andrei Savinykh took part in the online discussion titled “Human Rights in the West: Lack of International Monitoring and Response to Human Rights Violations”, organized by Belarus in Geneva as part of the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The OSCE was the main international venue for the Belarusian parliament. Throughout the year, parliamentary delegations in various compositions took part in meetings and session, being most active in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, where Belarusian MPs sat in different committees, including the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security (mostly via videoconference).

There was virtually no activity in the European direction, except for the Cold War-style rhetoric of condemnation of the “collective West”. The February 23 online meeting between Austrian parliamentarians lead by Helmut Brandstätter and a Belarusian delegation headed by Valery Voronetsky was one of the few exceptions. BelTA state newswire reported that the meeting was initiated by the Austrians, but no other details were available in open sources.12

Iran was among the countries, with which Belarusian MPs maintained intensive bilateral contacts. In August, House Speaker Vladimir Andreychenko attended the inauguration of President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi.

Russia and the post-Soviet republics thus remained among the very few directions of international activities of the Belarusian parliament amid the limited contacts with the West, following the significant deterioration of the situation with civil and political rights in Belarus. Belarusian MPs participated in sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union and other joint activities with the Russian authorities. The speakers of both chambers met with Russian officials, the Russian ambassador among them. MPs were invited to observe the parliamentary elections in Russia as members of the CIS observer mission.


The proposed amendments to the Constitution of Belarus have not fundamentally changed the role and position of the parliament in the national political system. The MPs still have limited powers and functions. The formal changes do not really affect the powers of the parliament or its dependence on the president and the executive branch. This trend will most likely continue in 2022.

The Belarusian parliament still rarely acts as a lawmaking entity. And yet, several initiatives promoted by the MPs in 2021 significantly restrict political rights and freedoms of the population. Without a black swan event, this activity (or rather inactivity) will continue.

Being essentially limited in contacts with foreign democracies, Belarusian parliamentarians, nevertheless, try to use the few available international venues to promote government narratives and criticism of Western democratic institutions. Contacts with Russia will remain highly intense for long.