MINSK -- Belarusian authorities expect to hold a referendum early next year on the constitutional amendments promised by authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid mass protests after a presidential election last year that opposition leaders and the West say was rigged.
The chairwoman of Belarus's Central Election Commission, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, said in an interview with Russia's RIA Novosti news agency on April 27 that the referendum is likely to be held in January or February 2022 and not by the end of this year as some media reports have said.
She added that, if the referendum were to be held alongside local elections, the most likely date for the poll would be January 16.
Lukashenka's opponents have expressed doubts about the amendments, calling them a sham exercise to help him to cling to power after the opposition rejected his victory in an August 9 presidential election.
Earlier in February, at a Soviet-style "All-Belarusian People's Assembly," Lukashenka, 66, reiterated an idea he started pushing in December that the Belarusian Constitution needed unspecified amendments.
In mid-March, he signed a decree to create of a commission on constitutional amendments which will, by August 1, outline the amendments and present them to Lukashenka.
Opposition and public outrage over what they saw as a rigged vote in the presidential election has sparked continuous protests, bringing tens of thousands onto the streets with demands for Lukashenka to step down and new elections to be held.
Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands, including dozens of journalists who covered the rallies, and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some of those detained.
Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the election and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.
The European Union, the United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have imposed sanctions on him and several senior Belarusian officials in response to the "falsification" of the vote and the postelection crackdown.