The Ukrainian constitution will most certainly be changed after the snap parliamentary election scheduled for September 30, no matter who wins the vote. Both President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych admit that the constitutional reform of 2004-2006, which increased the power of parliament at the expense of the president but stopped short of transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary republic, was imperfect. The proposed remedies, however, are very different. While Yanukovych wants to further weaken the presidency, Yushchenko plans to restore presidential powers.
Yanukovych, speaking on a visit to Luxembourg on June 18, said that it should be possible to amend the constitution in a new parliament, so that “one branch of power should not interfere with the work of another one.” Yanukovych’s National Unity Coalition in the outgoing parliament backs a bill on constitutional amendments aiming to weaken the president. The bill suggests depriving the president of the right to dissolve parliament if it fails to meet for 30 days and of the rights to appoint the ministers of defense and foreign affairs and the head of the security service. The bill would also cancel the requirement for parliament to discuss bills drafted by the president ahead of schedule and disband the National Defense and Security Council (NSDC), which is chaired by the president.
In an article published in the weekly Zerkalo nedeli on June 30, Yanukovych said that constitutional reform must continue. Yanukovych rejected Yushchenko’s calls to cancel immunity from prosecution for members of parliament. He said that the president should also lose the right to appoint two ministers to the cabinet, because that arrangement “violates the integrity of the cabinet as a body whose responsibility is collective.” The entire cabinet has to be formed by the parliamentary majority, according to Yanukovych.
On June 27 Yushchenko came up with his own proposals for a new constitution. Addressing the nation on television, he called the 2004 reforms “interference in the constitution that has led this country into a blind alley” and suggested cutting parliament’s term in office, reducing the number of parliamentarians, and establishing a bicameral legislature.
These ideas are not new. Yushchenko’s predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, offered the same menu in late 1990s in order to weaken parliament. A popular referendum of April 2000, which many observers said was rigged, approved the introduction of a bicameral parliament, but the legislature rejected this idea. So as not to repeat Kuchma’s mistake, Yushchenko suggested circumventing parliament and introducing the amendments via referendum.
Yushchenko’s main legal adviser, Ihor Pukshyn, developed the president’s ideas in an article in Zerkalo nedeli. He said that the upper chamber should be formed by regional representatives, who should serve longer than parliamentarians elected to the lower chamber from party lists. Pukshyn said that a new constitution should give the president the right to dissolve parliament “for political reasons” and not just for failure to form a cabinet or inactivity for 30 days. He also suggested increasing the NSDC’s role. Yushchenko has been increasingly relying on the NSDC in his tug-of-war with Yanukovych’s cabinet.
Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, who is the leader of the Socialist Party allied with Yanukovych, flatly rejected Yushchenko’s proposals. This is not surprising, as Moroz was one of the authors of the 2004-2006 constitutional reform. Speaking on television on June 27, Moroz accused Yushchenko of “striving for authoritarianism.” In a statement released by his party on July 2, Moroz said that Yushchenko “is trying to take even more power than Kuchma wielded.”
Volodymyr Lytvyn, a former ally of Kuchma and former parliamentary speaker, suggested that Yushchenko wants a bicameral parliament because he is tired of endless conflicts with parliament, so he wants “to set up a structure working as a cushion between the president and parliament.” Yushchenko’s opponents believe that he plans to fill the upper chamber with his appointees, probably regional governors, which Kuchma also considered.
It is interesting that Yushchenko’s allies have not been overly enthusiastic about his proposals. Yulia Tymoshenko, like Yushchenko, supports a strong presidency. However, speaking to Channel 5, she said that Ukraine does not need a bicameral legislature. At the same time, she supported the idea of amending the constitution by referendum, without asking parliament’s opinion.
Former foreign minister Borys Tarasyuk, who is the leader of the nationalist People’s Movement party (Rukh) allied with Yushchenko, recalled that the Council of Europe rejected Kuchma’s April 2000 referendum. “The referendum issue should be approached very carefully,” he said. Tarasyuk’s ally in the Pravytsya (Right Wing) bloc, Yuriy Kostenko, who is the leader of the People’s Party, warned that Yushchenko’s constitutional ideas might split Ukraine. “We can get a constitution for the left bank and another one for the right bank,” he told Channel 5.
(UNIAN, June 18; Interfax-Ukraine, June 20; UT1 TV, June 27; Channel 5, June 27, 28; Zerkalo nedeli, June 30; Ukrayinska pravda, July 2)