This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.
It is very tempting to consider Belarus as a case of semi-presidentialism from 1994-96. However, on the basis of the definition used in this blog, it was not. Paradoxically, the constitution becomes semi-presidential at the time when the powers of the president were increased and the country slid into autocracy in 1996.
The first post-Soviet constitution was passed in 1994. The text is available here.
In this constitution, there is no ambiguity over the direct election of the president (Art. 97). However, there is no mention of collective responsibility. Art 100 – 4 states that the president shall “4) appoint and dismiss, with the consent of the Supreme Council, the Prime Minister, his deputies, ministers of foreign affairs, finance, defense, internal affairs, and chairman of the Committee for State Security; appoint and dismiss other members of the Cabinet of Ministers as well as accept the resignation of the persons referred to in this paragraph”. Art. 107 – 2 states “Members of the Cabinet of Ministers shall be appointed and dismissed by the President. The Prime Minister, his deputies, ministers of foreign affairs, finance, defense, and internal affairs, and the chairman of the Committee for State Security shall be appointed and dismissed by the President with the consent of the Supreme Council.” The competences of the legislature are listed under Art. 83 and there is no mention of no-confidence motions.
In short, the 1994-96 constitution is presidential. As in the US, various senior government figures have to be approved by the legislature individually. However, once they are approved, they can only be dismissed by the president. There is no provision for collective responsibility.
The change comes in 1996. Technically, the 1996 amendments do not constitute a new constitution, but a revision of the 1994 document. The constitution has since been revised in 2004. The up-to-date version is available here.
Again, the direct election of the president is clear (Art. 81). This time, though, the collective responsibility of the government is also clear. Art. 106 states: “The Government in its activity shall be accountable to the President of the Republic of Belarus and responsible to the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus.” Arts. 97 – 5-7 state that the House of Representatives shall: “5) consider the report of the Prime minister on the policy of the Government and approve or reject it; a second rejection by the House of the policy of the Government shall be deemed as an expression of non-confidence to the Government; 6) consider on the initiative of the Prime minister a call for a vote of confidence; 7) on the initiative of no less than one-third of the full composition of the House of Representatives express a non-confidence vote to the Government”. Finally, Art. 106 – 5 states: “The Government shall tender its resignation to the President if the House of Representatives has passed a vote of no confidence to the Government. The Prime minister may request from the House of Representatives a vote of confidence with regard to the governmental Programme or any other issue submitted to the House. If a non- confidence vote is passed by the House of Representatives, the President shall be entitled to accept the resignation of the Government, or dissolve the House of Representatives within ten days, and call on holding new elections. If the resignation of the Government is rejected the latter shall continue to discharge its duties.”
So, even though the list of presidential powers was greatly expanded in 1996 and even though, since this time, Belarus has not operated as a democracy, constitutionally it has had a semi-presidential form of government. This was not the case from 1994-96.