Prague, Feb. 21 (RFE/RL) - Belarus' President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the country's parliament are once again on a collision course.
The latest conflict concerns the appointment of a new central bank
head, but its implications go much further, touching on the very
essence of Belarus' system of government.
Last week, Lukashenka named his close political ally, Tamara
Vinnikova, to chair the board of directors of the National Bank of Belarus. She was to replace Stanislau Bahdankevich, who had left the bank three months ago under pressure from Lukashenka. Until now, the board has been led by acting chairman Nikolai Kuzmich.
But in making the appointment, Lukashenka failed to seek approval of the move by the parliament. And this is required by the Belarusian
The parliamentary leaders immediately protested Lukashenka's move.
Former speaker and declared presidential foe Stanislau Shushkevich
termed it "a slap in the face of the constitution and the parliament." First deputy speaker Vasily Novikov said that it showed
"a disrespect for the parliament." And the communist party leader
Sergei Kalyakin hinted at possible impeachment of the head of state.
"The president himself is pushing us toward this," Kalyakin said. The
communists control more than 20 percent of the seats in the
The conflict has brought into the open the latent struggle for power between the admittedly authoritarian president and the parliament.
Openly bent on increasing his own powers, Lukashenka has long been
disdainful of any form of parliamentarism. Ever since winning the
presidential election in 1993, Lukashenka has frequently and
repeatedly poured scorn on the parliament, issuing instead his own
decrees in violation of the constitution.
Moreover, Lukashenka has recurrently ignored rulings of the
country's Constitutional Court that declared his decrees illegal,
suspended protesting labor unions and muzzled the media.
Lukashenka suffered a setback when a large turnout in the last
year's parliamentary elections (November) halted his plans to impose
a direct presidential rule.
But this might have only temporarily slowed down Lukashenka's drive
to augment his power. Last month he suggested at a closed-door
session of the parliament that the Constitutional Court be disbanded.
Lukashenka has also proposed a nationwide referendum on
constitutional changes which could make Russian an official state
language alongside the Belarusian language.
This corresponded to the president's declared intention to integrate Belarus with Russia. Making this the main goal of his presidency, Lukashenka was again recently reported by Russian media to have assured Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov of his "unswerving policy of reintegration with Russia."
But the movement toward integration has been slow. Belarusian
Foreign Minister Vladimir Senko has recently complained that his
country's customs union with Russia has so far been ineffective. He
said that Russia continued to sell its energy resources, primarily
gas and oil, to Belarus at "world prices and not Russian domestic
rates" as provided in the customs union treaty. Lukashenka is to
visit Moscow shortly to discuss closer ties.
The parliament is unlikely to oppose that move. But it wants to
play a major role in all policy decisions. That much was shown by a
recent remark by Belarusian parliament speaker Semyon Sharetsky, who
has pointedly noted that any decisions on referenda remain "the
prerogative of the parliament." Sharetsky has also opposed Lukashenka's suggestion on disbanding the Constitutional Court.
And yesterday, the parliament voted to reject Lukashenka's appointment of Vinnikova. It reconfirmed instead Nikolai Kuzmich as acting head of the central bank's board of directors.
Lukashenka is certain to fight this decision. Already two days ago he told the bank's managers that he was determined to impose direct control over the bank's operations.
He is unlikely to back down now. But neither is the parliament. And the conflict between the president and the legislature is to continue, seriously endangering any prospect for political stability in the post-Soviet republic.