Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has indicated that he will not stay on as president once amendments are made to the country's constitution.
"I am not going to shape the constitution to suit my needs. I am not going to be the president once the new constitution is in place," Lukashenko said, speaking to reporters during a visit to a hospital in Minsk on Friday, according to the BelTA news agency.
"I am a proponent of the new constitution. Not because we need some 'democracy'. Democracy is not the point. In this situation I am concerned about something else: we cannot give this constitution to a president who is an unknown. That would be a disaster," Lukashenko added, pointing to the major powers granted to the president under the existing basic law.
"We need to create a new constitution, but it should benefit the country. I don't want the country to fall into ruin down the line," Lukashenko stressed, adding that he would never allow the referendum on an amended constitution, or the elections that follow it, to be falsified, even if the results weren't to his liking. "Why? Because the Belarusian people need to go through what they need to go through. Better now, without a war. It would be worse if someone dropped this war on us."
Lukashenko has been president of Belarus for 26 years, serving out five consecutive terms and recently winning a sixth. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of Belarus's consolidated opposition, has accused Lukashenko of stealing the election from her, and alleged that opposition polling showed that she won the vote by a wide margin. From her self-imposed exile in Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya has demanded that Lukashenko step down and begin the process of 'handing over power'. The Belarusian president has rejected these calls, and has accused the opposition of being heavily supported by Western powers' intelligence services, the European Union and NATO. He has also warned that the ongoing spate of street protests could escalate into a civil war, and lead Poland to swallow up part of the country.
At the same time, Lukashenko promised constitutional reforms, but has stressed that he would not be forced out of office by a minority in the streets.
The EU slapped sanctions on 40 Belarusian officials in October, and has since expanded the list to include Lukashenko himself. Belarus later retaliated via personal sanctions against EU leaders.