The constitutional reform that Ukraine’s parliament passed during the Orange Revolution in December 2004 and that came into effect after the March 2006 parliamentary election may now be revised. President Viktor Yushchenko and the parties that are in opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych believe that the reform has destabilized the balance of powers in the country. It beefed up parliament at the expense of the president; consequently, Yushchenko lost control over the executive when a coalition hostile to him established the majority in parliament and formed a cabinet this past summer. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc (NU) and the bloc of his key Orange Revolution ally, Yulia Tymoshenko (BYT), want the Constitutional Court to invalidate the reform. Yushchenko has come up with a less radical plan — to draft amendments to the reform and approve them by referendum.
The NU and BYT argue that the reform was adopted in haste, as the result of a compromise with the parties that drafted it (most of them were from former president Leonid Kuchma’s camp) in exchange for holding a repeat presidential election in December 2004, which Yushchenko won. NU and BYT believe the reform should be cancelled and Ukraine should return to the pre-revolution system, where the president dominated Ukrainian politics. Tymoshenko, who does not conceal her presidential ambitions, may benefit from this if she wins the next presidential poll. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU) and its allies, however, believe that the reform should be developed, further weakening the presidency.
The reform’s weakest point became evident when the parliamentary majority proposed Yanukovych for prime minister in July 2006 and afterwards, when Yushchenko and Yanukovych locked horns over their respective powers (see EDM, September 27). The reform failed to clearly outline the president’s remit. The PRU believed that the constitution obliged Yushchenko to automatically submit Yanukovych’s candidacy for prime minister, PRU deputy Taras Chornovil recalled, speaking to Korrespondent weekly. But many Yushchenko allies thought he was not obliged to do that. When Yushchenko eventually did so, he found that his hands were tied regarding important personnel decisions. “The president appoints the Security Service chief with consent from parliament, but the president cannot dismiss him,” deputy Anatoly Matvienko of NU told Korrespondent. “The same applies to the prosecutor-general, the head of the state TV and radio committee and so on.”
The congress of People’s Union-Our Ukraine — the core of NU — on November 11 voted 1,172 to one with seven abstentions to instruct NU deputies to file an inquiry with the Constitutional Court to prove that the constitutional reform was passed with procedural violations. Tymoshenko readily backed NU’s initiative. Speaking in Brussels on November 21, she said that “the democratic forces” should ask the court to establish whether the reform was adopted in line with the law. Meeting with German journalists in Berlin on November 23, Tymoshenko said that her bloc had drafted a petition to the Constitutional Court and that it would appeal against the reform at the court jointly with NU.
Yushchenko does not conceal his dissatisfaction with the constitutional reform, either. “A number of mistakes were made when the constitution was amended,” he told journalists in Ivano-Frankivsk on November 3. Yushchenko, however, has not backed the NU-BYT initiative to ask the court to cancel the reform. On November 2, he set up a special commission tasked with drafting amendments to the reform. When the draft is ready, it should be offered for a referendum, according to Yushchenko’s plan. Yushchenko and his allies share the same ultimate goal. It is to make the office of the president stronger vis-à-vis parliament again. “It should be enough to ask the people one simple question: Are you in favor of the presidential or the parliamentary form of government?” Ukrayinska pravda quoted presidential secretary Viktor Baloha as saying on November 24.
Yanukovych’s Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych warned on the same day that a referendum on constitutional reform would not be binding. Yanukovych told a press conference in Kyiv on November 8 that the attempts to cancel the reform would have no legal consequences. “Together with parliament, we shall defend the current constitution,” he said. He added that the government would continue to further develop the reform regarding the local bodies of power. The PRU and its allies want to deprive the president of the right to appoint regional governors, thereby snatching from him the only lever he has to control the situation in the regions.
Commenting on Yushchenko’s referendum plan on November 28, Yanukovych warned that it would destabilize the situation in Ukraine. He also threatened that his party may come up with referendum initiatives of its own. Earlier, the PRU and its allies had suggested a referendum on NATO membership. It was rejected by the Yushchenko camp, which fears that a no vote would postpone Ukraine’s NATO entry indefinitely.
(Interfax-Ukraine, November 8, 11; UNIAN, November 3, 21, 28; Ukrayinska pravda, November 24; Korrespondent, November 25)