It is now  7:49 am  Tuesday,  June  19, 2001  in Belarus

The Government

On 27 July 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted a Declaration on State Sovereignty. A year later (25 August 1991), as the former Soviet Union self-destructed, that Declaration was granted the status of Constitutional law. On 19 September 1991 the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR passed a resolution renaming the country as the Republic of Belarus, and Belarus officially re-emerged as an independent state.

The Republic of Belarus continued to operate under the 1978 revision of its Soviet era Constitution. It had a uni-cameral legislature (the Supreme Soviet), a Council of Ministers and a Premier or Prime Minister. The Supreme Soviet, as the highest body of elected representatives of the people, exercised all legislative authority. The Chairman or Speaker of the Supreme Soviet was the official Head of Government. Executive authority was exercised by the Council of Ministers, with the Prime Minister serving as Head of State.

The 1994 Constitution

On 15 Mar 1994, the Supreme Soviet of Belarus adopted a new constitution (effective as of 30 March). Under this Constitution there are three branches of the government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The executive branch comprises the offices of the president, the prime minister, and a cabinet of ministers. The legislative branch consists of a uni-cameral Supreme Soviet with 260 seats for parliamentary deputies. The judicial branch consists of a Supreme Court and a system of lower courts, as well as a Constitutional Court to determine questions of Constitutionality of Law.

The Executive

The President is head of state, supreme executive authority and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President takes appropriate measures to safeguard the sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity of the Republic of Belarus, to ensure political and economic stability, and to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens. He directs the system of executive authorities and ensures their interaction with representative bodies; creates and abolishes ministries, state committees and other central bodies of administration, appoints the judges of the Supreme Court, and exercises other authorities entrusted with him by the Constitution. A referendum held on May 14, 1995 amended the Constitution to grant him the authority to dissolve parliament (the Supreme Soviet) "when necessary to correct gross abuses of Constitutional power by the legislature."

The President is elected by direct popular vote of the people. Any citizen of Belarus who is at least 35 years old, enjoys electoral franchise, and has been living in Belarus at least 10 years can be elected President. He must receive at least 50% of the votes cast in the Presidential election. If no candidate receives the required number of votes, a run-off is held between all candidates receiving at least 20% of the votes cast. This situation occurred in the first Presidential election held under the new Constitution.

The cabinet consists of 24 ministers appointed by the President, plus the head of the KGB; the ministers are directly accountable to the Prime Minister. The Cabinet of Ministers is formed to implement the executive powers at the top level.

Local administration and self-government are carried out by the people via local Soviets of Deputies, executive and leading bodies, civilian territorial self-government, local referenda, meetings and other forms of participation in state and social matters.

The Legislative

The Supreme Soviet is the supreme representative body of the people, and the only legislative authority in Belarus.

Members of the Supreme Soviet are elected for a period of five years. The last elections, for the 13th convocation, were held in May and November-December of 1995 (two rounds, each with a run-off). Sixteen political parties won seats in that election.

The Judiciary

Judicial power in the Republic of Belarus is in the hands of courts. When exercising justice, judges are independent and subordinate only to law. The judicial system is based on the old Soviet style civil law system.

The Constitutional Court determines questions of the Constitutionality of standard acts of the Legislature. It is made up of eleven members elected by the Supreme Soviet from experts on law. A Constitutional Court member's term of office is 11 years.

Civil Rights

Suffrage: 18 years of age; Universal.

Freedom of Speech and of the Press: The government maintains a virtual monopoly over the press since it owns nearly all printing and broadcasting facilities and manages the distribution of all print media through official outlets. However, the passage of a law in 1994 prohibiting the existence of a press monopoly has led to the development of several private newspapers and even some private radio and television stations.

Freedom of Assembly: Restricted under former Soviet law, which is still valid. Public demonstrations require an application at least 10 days in advance of the event. The local government must respond positively or negatively at least five days prior to the event. Applications are normally approved, demonstrations both in support of and in opposition to government policies are relatively common. Police are highly visible at these demonstrations, and frequently act to suppress anti-government viewpoints or press coverage of anti-government rallies. However, the government appears to be honestly trying to eliminate abuses in this area.

Freedom of Religion: The government generally respects this right in practice. The majority of Belarusians are Eastern Orthodox Christians, with a large minority of Roman rite Catholics and smaller minorities of Protestants, Jews and Islamics.

Freedom of Travel: Citizens are free to travel within the country. But Belarusians must register their place of residence with local authorities, and must re-register if they change residence. The Ministry of the Interior has proposed legislation abolishing both regulations. Foreigners who remain in the country for two days or longer must also register their temporary residences. This is done automatically for those who stay in hotels.

Freedom of Association: The constitution provides for the right of workers -- except state security and military personnel -- to voluntarily form and join independent unions and to carry out actions in defense of workers' rights, including the right to strike.