In the name of the nation – but for the benefit of one person. As early as 1996, only two years after he was elected president, the first head of independent Belarus did not hesitate to use illegal methods.
“What he wanted, he achieved. What Belarusians call the 1996 referendum was actually an unconstitutional seizure of power by the president,” said Syamyon Sharetski, the then chairman of the Supreme Soviet – Belarus’ parliament of that time.
Pursuing his aim, Lukashenka dismissed the legitimate Supreme Soviet of the 13th convocation and fired Viktar Hanchar, the then head of the Central Election Commission, who became outraged over the violations during the referendum. His position was taken by Lukashenka’s loyal supporter Lidziya Yarmoshyna.
“A legal mayhem that has been taking place around the referendum in the last 10 days hardly fits in the the current legislation and is incompatible with common sense,” Hanchar said.
Three years later, Viktar Hanchar, a promising politician and Lukashenka’s strong rival, disappeared under puzzling circumstances. He is still missing. Meanwhile, on November 24, Belarus will mark the 20th anniversary of the referendum that set back the clock in some way: a young state turned off the path to democracy onto the imitation of the deceased Soviet Union.
“I consider that development as a force majeure. It was destined to happen because the idea of a populist’s coming to power was in the air. This was the emanation of the mass consciousness. People were tired of chaos and destruction. They wanted hard power,” Volha Abramava, a deputy of the 13th Supreme Soviet, recalls.
“Four days of early voting passed, but the text of the Constitution for which people were voting was not been released and published! Belarusians cast their ballots for a pig in a poke, not mentioning that the alternative draft constitution failed to appear until the end of voting,” said politician Syarhei Kalyakin.
As a result of the 1996 referendum, the Constitution was amended, and the power in the country fell in the hands of Lukashenka. The decisions of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Council were ignored.
“These problems – social, economic, human rights issues – tend to accumulate, now we are facing more and more problems. The current authorities are not able to solve them, I am afraid,” Mechyslau Hryb, Chairman of the Supreme Council (1994-1996), believes.