With the exception of the new office of the president, the government structure of independent Belarus had changed little from that of the Belorussian SSR. Within the government, the communist-era mindset also persisted, even though the names of office-holders were often different. Because Lukashyenka and the legislature were frequently at odds, there was little agreement or initiative in changing or improving the government.
The national government consists of three branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary. Under the constitution, the size of the Supreme Soviet (elected for a term of five years) was reduced from 360 to 260 members. It is the highest legislative body of state power. Its functions include calling national referenda; adopting, revising, and interpreting the constitution; scheduling parliamentary and presidential elections; electing members of high-level courts, the procurator general, and the chairman and members of the board of the National Bank of Belarus; determining guidelines for domestic and foreign policy; confirming the state budget; supervising currency issues; ratifying international treaties; and determining military policy. The role of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was reduced to that of an agenda-setting and administrative body. The legislature's two subordinate state committees are the State Customs Committee and the State Security Committee.
Any Belarusian citizen who has the right to vote and is at least twenty-one years old is eligible to stand for election as a deputy. The parliament is elected by universal suffrage.
The president, a position created by the new constitution, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term of office and is the head of state and of the executive branch of government. He or she adopts measures to guard the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, appoints and dismisses the chairman and members of the Cabinet of Ministers, appoints judges, heads the country's National Security Council, and serves as commander in chief of the armed forces.
The president can be removed by a two-thirds vote in the parliament under certain circumstances, such as violating the constitution or committing a crime. However, the president cannot dismiss the parliament or other elected governing bodies.
The executive branch also includes the Cabinet of Ministers, composed of the heads of Belarus's twenty-six ministries: administration of state property and privatization; agriculture; architecture and construction; CIS matters; communications and information technology; culture and the press; defense; economy; education and science; emergency situations and the protection of the population from the aftermath of the Chornobyl' nuclear power station disaster; finance; foreign affairs; foreign economic relations; forestry; fuel and energy; health care; housing and municipal services; industry; information; internal affairs; justice, labor; natural resources and environmental protection; social protection; statistics and analyses; trade; and transportation and communications.
Judicial power is vested in a court system headed by the Constitutional Court, which consists of eleven judges who are nominated by the president and appointed by the Supreme Soviet. The Constitutional Court receives proposals from the president, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the permanent committees of the Supreme Soviet, at least seventy deputies of the Supreme Soviet, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court, or the Procurator General to review the constitutionality of international agreements or obligations to which Belarus is a party. The Constitutional Court also reviews the constitutionality of domestic legal acts; presidential edicts; regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers; the constitution; laws; legal documents; and regulatory decisions of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court, and the Procurator General. The Constitutional Court's decisions are final and not subject to appeal.
The mid-level courts are regional courts, and below them are district courts. These are presided over by judges appointed directly by the president. Trials in all courts are open. The parties involved in a case have the right to appeal judicial decisions, sentences, and other rulings. However, the appeal consists merely of a higher court's review of the protocol and other documents of the original trial. In actual practice, decisions are rarely overturned.
There is a separate system of military courts. Military judges are appointed directly by the president.
The Procuracy functions like a cross between a police investigative bureau and a public prosecutor's office. It investigates crimes, brings criminals to trial and prosecutes them, supervises courts and penal facilities within its jurisdiction, reviews all court decisions in both civil and criminal cases, supervises investigations conducted by other government agencies, and ensures the uniform application of law in the courts.
The Procuracy is headed by the procurator general, who is appointed by the Supreme Soviet. The procurator general then appoints each officer of the Procuracy, known as a procurator. The constitution states that the procurator general and his subordinate procurators are to function independently, yet the procurator general is accountable to the Supreme Soviet. Procurators are independent of regional and local government bodies because they derive their authority from the procurator general. Procurators are generally quite influential because they supervise all criminal investigations; courts are extremely deferential to the procurators' actions, petitions, and conclusions.
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