The present Constitution of the Republic of Belarus was adopted in 1994 and amended and supplemented at the national referenda on 24 November 1996 and 17 October 2004. It was passed at the 13th session of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th convocation on 15 March 1994. It is the first Constitution in the history of sovereign Belarus and the fifth Constitution of Belarus passed after the October Revolution of 1917.
The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus adopted in 1994 is the fundamental law of the state. It is the foundation of the current legislative system. The Constitution determines the purview of state administration bodies.
The present Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is based on:
- political pluralism;
- a variety of forms of ownership as an economic basis;
- equality and mutual obligations of the state and the citizen;
- the priority of universally acknowledged principles of international law as the vector to guide the development of current legislation;
- rule of law;
- separation and interaction of powers;
- direct effect of constitutional norms.
The Constitution has an effect on the development of the legal system, specifies lawmaking authorities of government bodies, determines objects and the scope of legal regulation. The Constitution provides for the types and hierarchy of legal acts.
Contents of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus
The Preamble of the Constitution highlights the main ideas and principles which serve as guidelines for the people and the authorities in the process of state construction and social development. These include the responsibility for the present and future of Belarus; recognizing Belarus a full-fledged subject of the international community; inalienable right to self-determination; reliance on the centuries-old history of development of the Belarusian statehood; assertion of the rights and freedoms of every citizen; maintenance of civic concord and firm foundations of government by the people and the state based on the rule of law.
Section I of the Constitution “Fundamentals of the Constitutional System” describes Belarus as a unitary, democratic, social state based on the rule of law. It ascertains mutual responsibility of the citizen and the state.
Section II “Individual, Society and the State” specifies personal, political, social, economic and cultural rights and freedoms of citizens; determines obligations of citizens; responsibilities of the state before the society and the individual, the obligation of the state to provide material guarantees and resources necessary for the full exercise of the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Section III “Electoral System. Referendum” formalizes the main principles of the electoral system, introduces the order of holding republican and local referenda.
Section IV “President, Parliament, Government, Court” specifies the status and authorities of the President; the order of formation, membership, purview, forms and methods of activities of government bodies; outlines the structure of the court system and the principles of administering justice in the republic.
Section V “Local Government and Self-Government” determines the bodies to exercise local government and self-government functions as well as their status and authority.
Section VI “Prosecutor’s Office. Committee of State Control” provides for the norms regulating activities of the two government bodies, namely the Prosecutor’s Office and the State Control Committee.
Section VII “Financial and Credit System of the Republic of Belarus” reads that the Republic of Belarus pursues a uniform fiscal, tax, credit and currency policy. The section specifies the procedure for replenishing state budget revenues, the structure of national spending, the procedure for drawing up, approving and implementing budgets and public non-budgetary funds.
Section VIII “Effect of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and Procedure of Its Changing” determines the force and role of the Constitution, formation of the entire legal system taking into account the hierarchy of legal acts, specifies the effect of the Constitution and the procedure of its amending.
Section IX of the Constitution is named “Final and Transitional Provisions”. The last section of the Constitution provides for the legal means to ensure transition to the implementation of the norms which cannot be implemented immediately after the Constitution enters into force. The section also includes the norms highlighting the peculiarities of formation and preservation of the authority of previously established and new state bodies.
The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is the quintessence of continuity and experience of the centuries-old historical path of Belarus. It has heralded a new era in the political, social and economic development of the country. The Constitution is based on the inalienable sovereign right of the Belarusian people to develop statehood and be a full-fledged subject of the international community. The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus embodies the principles of constitutional order of such countries as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, and other countries adjusting them to take into account peculiarities of the development of our society and its historical traditions.
The Belarusian Constitution guarantees every citizen the rights and freedoms necessary for creative work, decent living and harmonious all-round development of the person.
Additions and Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of BelarusThe effect of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and the procedure of its amending are stipulated in Section VIII of the Fundamental Law.
In line with Article 138, amendments and addenda to the Constitution shall be considered by the Houses of the Parliament on the initiative of the President or on the initiative of at least 150,000 citizens of the Republic of Belarus eligible to vote.
Article 140 says that the Constitution may be amended or supplemented via a referendum. The decision on amending or supplementing the Constitution by means of a referendum shall be adopted if the majority of citizens on the electoral roll have voted for it.
Section I “Fundamentals of the Constitutional System”, Section II "Individual, Society and the State”, Section IV “President, Parliament, Government, Court” and Section VIII “Effect of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and Procedure of Its Changing” can be reconsidered only by means of a referendum.
The first additions and amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus were introduced by the national referendum held on 24 November 1996. Two drafts of the amended Fundamental Law were put to the referendum.
As many as 5,175,664 people, or 70.5% of the total number of voters, approved the draft put forward by President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. The draft submitted by the Supreme Council obtained votes of 582,437 people, or 7.9%. Therefore, the new wording of the Constitution was passed at the referendum.
Along with previously established norms concerning the variety of forms of ownership, political pluralism, priority of universally acknowledged principles of international law, the ability of citizens to protect their rights and freedoms in court, the amended Constitution introduced the provision on the rule of law, redistributed the authority of the President, the Parliament and the Government, expanded a number of rights and freedoms.
The amendments to the Fundamental Law ensured the efficiency of the executive, legislative and judicial powers as well as of the head of state in the interests of the Belarusian people.
The referendum of 1996 was the only legitimate way to eliminate the provisions which contradicted legal norms, social needs and objectives to create an economically stable, socially oriented state based on the rule of law.
The following referendum on introducing additions and amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus took place on 17 October 2004. The amendment removed the restrictions stipulated in Part I of Article 81 of the Constitution that the same person may not be President of the Republic of Belarus for more than two terms.
In line with the data of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Belarus, the turnout made up 90.28%. As many as 79.42% of the citizens on the electoral roll voted for the new wording of Part I of Article 81 of the Constitution.
The full text of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is available on the website of the National Center of Legal Information of the Republic of Belarus