Minsk, 25 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Belarus parliament speaker Semyon Sharetsky has condemned yesterday's referendum that expanded the powers of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and extended his term in office. At a news conference in Minsk today, Sharetsky called the referendum "a farce" and said that "dictatorship exists in Belarus right now." He appealed to the international community, especially Russia, "not to let this dictatorship be strong in this country." He added: "Don't give it an opportunity to rape our people."
Preliminary results from the Central Electoral Commission show that 70.5 percent of eligible voters endorsed Lukashenka's constitutional draft and only 7.9 percent favored an alternative parliamentary draft that would have abolished the presidency.
Speaking at a Minsk news conference earlier today, Lukashenka celebrated his victory as an honest expression of the peoples' will to extend his term by two years until 2001 and give him authority to remodel Parliament into two chambers. He dismissed criticism from his political opponents that this amounts to setting up a dictatorship.
He said the referendum result should encourage Parliament and the Constitutional Court, with whom he has been feuding, to be more amenable to his political aims.
"After the vote, the situation changed in the country for the better, for stability," he said.
Lukashenka again promised he would not dissolve Parliament unilaterally. But he said that before Christmas he would use his new powers under the Constitution to transform it into a different body. Most members of the present parliament (Supreme Soviet) would become members of the lower chamber (House of Representatives), with an upper chamber appointed by the President.
In Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin today discussed the results of the controversial referendum in Belarus with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and concluded that Russia's bid to defuse the political crisis in Minsk had worked.
The Kremlin press service said Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin held a 90 minute meeting at the Barvikha sanatorium outside Moscow, where Yeltsin his recovering after his open-heart operation.
The press service said in a statement Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin had "noted how timely were the steps Russia" had taken to reduce tension in Belarus on the eve of the referendum. It said Russia's moves had "prevented a social explosion and averted the development of a turn of events for the worse in Russian-Belarussian relations."
Chernomyrdin last week brokered a compromise between Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Parliament. The compromise, which fell apart within a day, said the referendum on extending Lukashenka's powers and term in office would not be binding.
Chernomyrdin said yesterday that a group of Belarus legislators were responsible for blocking the compromise, but also expressed irritation with Lukashenka for failing to do enough to make the accord work. Lukashenka signed a decree yesterday stating the vote would be binding. The results of the vote have given Lukashenka massive backing to his bid for wide new powers.
Belarus' Central Electoral Commission says Belarusians overwhelmingly voted in a constitutional referendum in favor of giving President Lukashenka greater powers.
Lidiya Yermoshina, acting president of the Central Electoral Commission, told a news conference in Minsk today that preliminary results from yesterday's referendum show that 70.5 percent of all registered voters backed Lukashenka's draft constitution that also extend his term.
At least half the registered 7.2 million voters have to cast ballots in favor of Lukashenka's new constitution and a 50 percent turnout was required for the vote to be considered valid. Yermoshina said earlier that more than 84 percent of voters had cast their ballots.
Yermoshina was put in charge of running the voting by Lukashenka after he sacked her predecessor, Viktor Hanchar, who had criticized the referendum. Hanchar, who had been appointed by Parliament, said today he believed the turnout figure had been falsified. He told Reuters the figure cited was "simply fantastic."
The opposition has accused Lukashenka of violating the existing constitution and parliamentary deputies have begun an attempt to impeach him. Independent monitors from the European Parliament said yesterday they had noted more than 1,000 violations since early voting began.