MINSK -- An extraordinary parliamentary session called by authoritarian Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has started in Minsk, just days ahead of an August 9 presidential poll.
Lukashenka's spokeswoman, Natallya Eismant, said on August 2 that Lukashenka will address the parliament and the nation on August 4.
Last week, as political opponents mounted a growing challenge to his decades-long rule, Lukashenka called an extraordinary meeting of parliament for August 3.
He said he decided to push forward his address from its scheduled time in April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The joint session of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic was opened by Uladzimer Andreychanka, the chairman of the House, the parliament's lower chamber.
"On the basis of the constitution, the head of state [Lukashenka] decided to summon an extraordinary session...to hear the president's annual message to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly as well as discuss other issues," Andreychanka said.
Opposition presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on July 28 that she had submitted a request to both of parliament's chambers, the Central Election Commission, and the national television and radio corporation, to allow her to also address the nation and the parliament the same day as Lukashenka.
"We are both presidential candidates, and according to [the constitution's] Article 73, all presidential candidates have equal rights and equal responsibilities. We express our opinions, which must be taken into account by all," Tsikhanouskaya said.
It is unlikely that Tsikhanouskaya, who managed to gather tens of thousands of supporters at rallies in Minsk and other Belarusian towns and cities in recent weeks, will be allowed to address the lawmakers and the nation.
In practice, Belarus's rubber-stamp National Assembly has little real power.
The system concentrates nearly all governing power in the hands of Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus since 1994.
Opposition to Lukashenka seeking a sixth term has been growing recently, with tens of thousands of people attending opposition rallies over the last few weeks.