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EAST EUROPEAN LEGISLATIVE MONITOR Introduction -- October 1996, vol. I, no. 6 We must, unfortunately, inform our readers that this October issue will be the last issue of the East European Legislative Monitor in its present form. The Constitutional and Legislative Policy Institute has decided to suspend publication of the journal for the present time so that we can reconsider how the EELM could be better provide a substantial reform policy function. There is a good possibility that the EELM may be revived in a different form at a later date. At that time all current subscribers of the EELM will be informed of the possibility resubscribe to any new publications. BELARUS -- OCTOBER 1996, vol. I, no. 6 BILLS Amendments to the Law "On General Voting (Referendum)" Interpretation of Articles 125 and 127 of the Constitution Administrative Surveillance of People Released from Prison Amendments to the Law "On the National Bank" LAWS Amendments to the Law "On the Election of Members of the Supreme Soviet" Amendments to the Law "On Pensions for Military Personnel, Low-ranking and High-ranking Officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs" Amendments to the Law "On Internal State Debt" Amendments to the Law "On the Budget" Decree "On the Holding of the National Referendum on November 24, 1996" Decree "On the Election of the Head of the Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums" 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 Parliament: Accord (not a political party per se, rather a grouping of pro-presidential MPs), 62 seats; Agrarian Party (AP), 46 seats; Belarusian Communist Party (BCP), 45 seats; Labor Union (LU), 18 seats; Civic Action (CA), 18 seats; 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 AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON GENERAL VOTING (REFERENDUM) IN THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS," which were submitted by the Committee on Statehood and Local Self-Government, were passed by the Supreme Soviet. As expected, the president vetoed the bill, and now the Supreme Soviet intends to override the veto in October. The existing law passed in 1992, contains several provisions in violation of the Constitution, according to the Constitutional Court. Thus, Art. 8 of the law regulating activities of the territorial commissions on referenda has been amended by the following provisions: "The Commission shall not restrict any activities of observers if they do not violate laws and civil order. Mass media totally or partly financed by, and acting on behalf of, the government is obliged to provide equal opportunities for agitation for or against any issue put to a referendum." However, the amended draft does not provide a mechanism to ensure such equal opportunities. Article 31.6 provides that: "Where any citizen enjoying the right to vote in a referendum is unable to come to the polling station, the corresponding territorial Commission on Referenda shall arrange to transport such a citizen to the polling station and back on the day of the referendum at the written request of the citizen. Arrangement of voting beyond the polling station is prohibited". The present law allows arrangement of voting beyond the building where voting takes place by taking the ballot boxes to voters' homes. Presumably, this provision has given rise to numerous abuses during referendum campaigns. The amendments attracted strong criticism from the president, hence the subsequent veto. The bill ON INTERPRETATION OF ARTICLES 125 AND 127 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS has been submitted by the Committee on Statehood and Local Self-Government. The need for such a bill was due to numerous motions by the Constitutional Court to the Supreme Soviet requesting clarification on whether all presidential decrees are within the competence of the Constitutional Court or only those of a normative character. Parliament passed the bill once, and is now attempting to override the presidential veto. Article 1.1 of the interpretation states that: "Only acts, stipulated by Articles 125 and 127 of the Constitution of normative character (normative acts) are subject to constitutional control by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus." The bill considers normative acts to be those that are: "passed by the empowered state authorities, governmental officials, and other executive bodies which consist fully or partly of mandatory norms and rules of behavior applicable to indefinite groups of people for an unlimited period of time." The president has used his veto powers with increasing frequency, and the majority of recent bills passed by Parliament have fallen victim to the veto. The bill ON ADMINISTRATIVE SURVEILLANCE OF PEOPLE RELEASED FROM PRISON, submitted by the Committee on National Security and Defense, failed to pass. The Supreme Soviet returned the bill to the Committee with a request to bring it into compliance with the Constitution. The submitted bill would have violated several constitutional provisions. Thus, Art. 7, stipulating the system of administrative surveillance, grants excessively wide powers to police officers. For example, police officers are entitled to summon people released from prisons for interrogations, to carry out such interrogations in the presence of their relatives and employers, to request written explanation of any question concerning the system of administrative surveillance, and to enter the homes of such people at any time of the day. Article 10.a forbids people released from prison to leave their dwellings for a specified time, and Art. 10.b forbids the presence of such people in specified areas of cities. According to a majority of the deputies, the above-mentioned provisions violate constitutional rights and freedoms such the as freedom of movement and the inviolability of dwellings. The AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON THE NATIONAL BANK OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS," submitted by the Committee on Budget, Taxes, and Finances, were intended to define the competence of the Supreme Soviet with respect to control over the National Bank. Despite the fact that the National Bank is de jure under control of the Supreme Soviet, it is de facto subordinate to the president, especially regarding issuance of money into circulation. Article 9 provides that: "The Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus has the right to dismiss the Head of the Board of the National Bank in the following cases: a. Expiration of the term of office; b. Inability to carry out his or her duties (on the basis of a medical certificate); c. Personal application for dismissal; d. Committing a crime; e. Violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus or laws regulating activities of the National Bank (on the basis of a decision of the Constitutional Court)." LAWS The AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON THE ELECTION OF MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME SOVIET OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS," submitted by the Committee on Statehood and Local Self-Government, was intended to change the number of accredited representatives allocated to candidates (an accredited representative is an assistant to an MP with various duties, including communication with voters and media). The law was proposed in order to increase the number of the accredited representatives to the number of electoral districts. The president vetoed the bill, though, and the law was passed in a watered down version. The amendments that did pass impose an obligation on local electoral commissions to provide equal information about all candidates. The AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON PENSIONS FOR MILITARY PERSONNEL, LOW-RANKING AND HIGH-RANKING OFFICERS OF THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS," submitted by the president, fill a gap in Belarusian pension legislation. Until now, police officers who formerly served in Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia were not covered by pension legislation. The amended law makes them eligible for Belarusian pensions. The AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON INTERNAL STATE DEBT," submitted by the president, provide the mechanisms for borrowing from legal and natural persons on behalf of the cabinet. The cabinet may authorize other state bodies to hold such debts. The AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW "ON THE 1996 BUDGET OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS," submitted by the Committee for Economic Reform, provide for writing off of debts owed to the state budget by any business or enterprise. The wage debts of state-owned companies to their workers and the dissatisfaction of the latter forced Parliament to pass the present law. The Supreme Soviet adopted the decree "ON THE HOLDING OF THE NATIONAL REFERENDUM ON NOVEMBER 24, 1996," which would add questions to the presidential referendum, The referendum already includes four presidential questions: concerning the new date of the Independence Day of the Republic of Belarus: the presidential draft of the new Constitution: sale of land plots, and abolition of the death penalty. The Supreme Soviet would add the following questions to the referendum: "1. Do you support the 1994 draft of the Constitution with amendments proposed by the communist and agrarian groups in the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus?; 2. Do you agree that the heads of the local executives shall be elected directly by the citizens of the correspondent administrative areas?; 3. Do you agree that financing of all branches of power should be undertaken publicly and exclusively from the state budget?" The president proposed the referendum along with a draft of the new Constitution (EELM: Belarus -- September 1996, vol. I, no. 5), that, not surprisingly, provoked an angry response from the Supreme Soviet. In subsequent heated debates, the Supreme Soviet decided to add its own questions to the presidential referendum draft and to change the date of the referendum.(For more on the preceding paragraph, see EELM: Belarus -- September 1996, vol. I, no. 5.)
The draft of the Constitution proposed by the Supreme Soviet abolishes the position of president and provides for a parliamentary republic, along the lines of the 1978 Constitution. In connection with this, Parliament adopted the decree ON THE ELECTION OF THE HEAD OF THE CENTRAL COMMISSION FOR ELECTIONS AND NATIONAL REFERENDA and appointed Viktor Hanchar, an MP and former deputy prime minister, to the post. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The East European Legislative Monitor is a free, monthly publication of the Constitutional and Legislative Policy Institute. Note:The October, 1996, issue is the last issue, at least for the time being. East European Legislative Monitor Staff Editor Jeff Taylor e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Associate Editor Dwight Semler Assistant Editors Mathew Utterback Paul Benjamin Sybilla Suda
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