Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, the unicameral parliament dominated for the most part by Red forces, has proved a hindrance to the country’s economic and political reforms and a cobble on the ankle of President Leonid Kuchma. The president and the legislative leadership each aspire to change the balance of power between the two branches, and each regards the creation of an upper chamber as an instrument for such a change.
Kuchma had originally proposed this innovation last December. He envisaged the creation of an upper house, to consist–as in Russia–of regional representatives, presumably the governors. Such a house would serve as a buffer between the executive branch and the opposition-dominated lower chamber. Kuchma suggested that a constitutional referendum be conducted on that innovation and on his accompanying proposal to extend by five years the president’s authority to issue decrees on economic matters not covered by existing legislation. Ukraine’s governors, however–unlike Russia’s–are appointed by the president, not elected by popular vote. An upper house formed according to that principle would consist exclusively of presidential appointees. Not surprisingly, Kuchma’s proposals were rejected out of hand by the Rada (see the Monitor, December 16, 18, 1998 and June 29, 1999).
On July 12, the Rada’s chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko–a challenger to Kuchma in the current presidential campaign–rather unexpectedly reintroduced the idea of turning the parliament into a bicameral one and announced that a constitutional amendment is being drawn up. This move looks like an attempt to seize the initiative after Kuchma’s authority to issue decrees in the economic sphere expired on June 30. Tkachenko envisages as well an upper house consisting of regional representatives. But in his scheme, the governors would be popularly elected. Considering the current electoral strength of leftists in most regions, an elective upper chamber would most probably be–like the Rada–dominated by the Reds. The two clashing concepts of an upper chamber and a bicameral parliament reflect the deep differences between the presidency and the parliamentary leadership over the full range of policies (STB, UNIAN, July 6, 12; see the Monitor, June 29).
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