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EAST EUROPEAN LEGISLATIVE MONITOR BELARUS -- JULY 1996, vol. I, no. 4 BILLS Mass Media Manager of Bankruptcy Procedures Creation of New Employment Opportunities NEW LAWS Amendments to the Law "On the Supreme Soviet" Amendments to the Law "On the Presidency" Amendments to the Law "On the Cabinet of Ministers" Amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses Deploying Military and Police Personnel Abroad for International Military Exercises and Peace-Keeping Operations RULES AND PROCEDURES Decree: On the Motion of the Constitutional Court "On the Status of the Rule of Law in the Republic of Belarus in 1995" Creation of Investigative Committees POLITICAL PARTIES Belarus Popular Front Initiates Protests Lack of Political Diversity in Supreme Soviet Dissatisfaction with Presidential Policy within Pro-Presidential Groups Ratification of the Belarusian-Russian Treaty FACTS Republic of Belarus Constitution: Ratified March 15, 1994 Head of State: Alyaksandr Lukashenka Government: Cabinet of Ministers; formed 1994. President nominates prime-minister, MP prime ministers, and ministers. Nomination of prime minister, MP prime ministers, minister of foreign affairs, minister of finance, minister of defense, minister of internal affairs, and chief of secret service must be confirmed by the Supreme Soviet. Parliament: Supreme Soviet; 260 seats (199 MPs have actually been elected, another 61 are expected to be elected in November). Major parties in the Parliament: Accord (not a political party per se, rather a grouping of pro-presidential MPs), 62 seats (32 percent); Agrarian Party (AP), 46 Seats (23.3 percent); Belarusian Communist Party (BCP), 45 Seats (22.2 percent); Labor Union (LU), 18 Seats (9.1 percent); Civic Action (CA), 18 Seats (9.1 percent); 10 MPs are independents. Last Parliamentary Elections/Next: December 1995/November 1996 (for the election of unfilled seats)/2000 (the next general election). Parliamentary Electoral Formula: majority system with 260 single-member seats; election in two rounds, winner must win majority of registered voters in district. Legislative Procedure: Initiative: MPs, standing committees of the Supreme Soviet, president, Supreme Court, Supreme Commercial Court, general prosecutor, Chamber of Control, National Bank, 50,000 registered voters. Adoption requirements for bills: constitutional provisions: 2/3 majority, normal bills: simple majority; President has veto, which may be overridden with 2/3 majority. BILLS The bill ON MASS MEDIA was drafted in order to promote the dissemination of information concerning activities of all state bodies in the state mass media. The bill entitles the speaker of the Supreme Soviet, members of the Constitutional Court, ministers, representatives of parliamentary groups, and members of parliament to address the public through the state mass media. Until now, only the president had this power. Art. 31.5 provides that: "State TV and radio organizations are obliged at least once a month to provide the opportunity for representatives of parliamentary groups to address the public. The duration of an address shall be at least 30 minutes. Upon the demand of MPs, the program can be broadcast live without preliminary recording." The bill ON MANAGERS OF BANKRUPTCY PROCEDURES defines the competencies of the person appointed as a manager of bankruptcy procedure. Under this bill, the manager would be appointed by the Commercial Court in compliance with the law "On Bankruptcy." Art. 2 of the bill states objectives to be fulfilled by the manager, including: "protection of the rights and interests of all creditors as well as that of the debtor," and the article regulates the procedure for the liquidation of the bankrupt legal person. The bill ON THE CREATION OF NEW EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES is a largely impotent piece of legislation which mainly concerns state programs for the development of small and middle-sized businesses. The bill declares the necessity to develop these types of businesses, however it does not provide any real mechanism to encourage such development. NEW LAWS The AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON THE SUPREME SOVIET" were passed in a package of other constitutional laws. The amendments revise Art. 35.2 to read: "the decision of the president to announce a state of emergency in the country is valid only after approval by the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus." Art. 65.2 provides for the broadcasting of parliamentary sessions, and establishes the responsibility of the state mass media officials for violation of their duties: "The decision of the Supreme Soviet regarding information about its activity mandates the live transmission of parliamentary sessions on radio and TV by the state mass media and state mass media officials are held responsible for non-fulfillment of this decisions." The amendment to Art. 110 was adopted in order to guarantee additional protection for former MPs opposed to the current government: "In order to prevent prosecution for political and civic activities, former members of the Supreme Soviet can be charged criminal or administrative crimes only by sanction of the General Prosecutor of the Republic of Belarus." AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON THE CABINET OF MINISTERS" give the speaker of the Supreme Soviet, members of the Presidium, and chairmen of standing Supreme Soviet committees the right to participate in sessions of the Cabinet of Ministers and ministerial meetings. Thus, in theory, parliamentary leaders will now be able to influence the activities of the executive branch. AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON THE PRESIDENCY" concern presidential elections in case the office becomes vacant before the regularly scheduled election. According to Art. 14.2, "Presidential elections shall be undertaken not earlier than 30 days and not later than 70 days after the presidential position becomes vacant." The LAW ON DEPLOYING MILITARY AND POLICE PERSONNEL ABROAD FOR INTERNATIONAL MILITARY EXERCISES AND PEACE-KEEPING OPERATIONS requires Supreme Soviet approval for any such deployment (Art. 1). The personnel to be deployed must also give their consent in writing (Art. 2). AMENDMENTS TO THE CODE OF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFENSES bring the code in line with the new amendments to the law "On the Supreme Soviet " and the bill "On Mass Media" to ensure the disclosure of information regarding governmental activities. These amendments provide sanctions for officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements. RULES AND PROCEDURES Considerable tensions between the three branches of power in Belarus pushed the Supreme Soviet to adopt the Decree "ON THE MOTION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT: "ON THE STATUS OF THE RULE OF LAW IN THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS IN 1995." In its motion, the Court bemoaned what it perceived as the absence of the rule of law and constitutional order in Belarus. According to the motion, "the Constitutional Court deems the present situation regarding the rule of law in the Republic unsatisfactory. The separation of powers principle has not been implemented in reality. As a result of the illegal expansion of the power of the executive branch, the proper authority of the other branches has been undermined. In several cases, laws have been substituted for by contrary regulations, which has caused governmental officials to violate laws, and has confused the public." The Court also expressed concern that previous decisions of the Court, which invalidated 11 presidential decrees (including "On Reformation of the Structure of Local Authorities and Self-Governing Bodies," "On Details of the 1995 Budget and Budget Cuts," and "On Measures to Ensure Stability and Legal Order") and unconstitutional provisions in several laws ("On Foreign Investments," and the Criminal Code), have been ignored by the President, the Supreme Soviet, and other governmental officials. The Court called on the Supreme Soviet to enforce the motion as well as its previous decisions. In the decree, the Supreme Soviet concurred with the Court's conclusions and adopted several enumerated measures to put the motion into effect. These included amendments to the laws invalidated by the Court; elaboration of the program designed to bring legislation in compliance with the Constitution; the adoption of a law to enforce Court decisions and impose sanctions on governmental officials who ignore them; and the adoption of a law "On the Drafting, Adoption, and Promulgation of Laws and Regulations in the Republic of Belarus." The Supreme Soviet set up two ad hoc committees to investigate two related events in recent Belarusian politics. The committees are to address the arrest of Supreme Soviet MP Pavel Znavec, and the mass demonstrations which took place in Mensk, March-May 1996. Znavec was beaten and arrested by the police, despite his parliamentary immunity, during an April 26 demonstration. POLITICAL PARTIES Political events which took place in Mensk over the last three months have revealed the real strength of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), the largest political party in Belarus. The fact that BPF does not hold a single seat in the Supreme Soviet is a clear reminder that the Supreme Soviet does not entirely reflect popular preferences. Of the more than 3.5 million voters, more than 1 million cast their votes for BPF candidates. However, due to the majority system electoral system (where a candidate must take the majority of votes within a district to be elected), the 50 percent voter participation requirement, and the total media monopoly enjoyed by the government, elections could not be completed in the majority of electoral districts in Mensk and other major cities (including Brest and Grodna), where most of the BPF candidates were running. Together with other opposition forces (including the Social Democratic Party, Gramada, and other liberal organizations), the BPF initiated a number of demonstrations and civil actions against presidential policy and the Belarusian-Russian Treaty. As a result, the BPF is in danger of being banned for the initiation of unsanctioned rallies. The issue of an arrest warrant forced BPF leader Zianon Paznyak into exile; Liavon Barshcheuski was subsequently elected as acting head of the party. The current political makeup of the Supreme Soviet does not allow it to be an effective check on the power of the president in Belarus. The largest parliamentary group--"Accord"--consists of former members of President Lukashenka's administration or other officials loyal to him. Together with BCP and AP, they constitute an overwhelming majority (77.5 percent) in the Supreme Soviet. BCP consists of former officials of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union-Communist Party of Belarus, which ceased to exist in 1991. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the new Belarusian Communist Party was established with the old party's property. The Agrarian Party represents officials of different agrarian enterprises, especially collective farms (kolkhoz) and soviet farms (sovkhoz). Supreme Soviet Speaker Syamyon Sharecki leads the AP bloc. These parliamentary groups have blocked bills to establish a market economy and private property, while encouraging President Lukashenka's moves to create an alliance with Moscow. However, the coalition is not monolithic. Some of Lukashenka's recent actions have provoked a negative reaction even within the coalition. For instance, Sharecki criticized presidential attempts to impose sole control over all branches of power and speed up the creation of confederation or federation with Russia. Instead, Sharecki proposed that Belarus follow the European Union model of interstate integration with the preservation of state sovereignty. Parliamentary opposition is represented by only two small parties: the social democratic bloc, called Labor Union (LU), and the liberal Civic Action (CA) party (total 18.2 percent). LU adheres to classical social democratic economic and political principles, advocating a socially oriented market economy. CA calls for radical, free-market reforms. These two groups initiate market reform bills, protest human rights violations, and seek to preserve Belarus's independence and sovereignty. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The East European Legislative Monitor is published by the Constitutional and Legislative Policy Institute. Subscriptions to the East European Legislative Monitor are free. 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