Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 232

Speaking to a gathering of regional media editors on Tuesday (December 15), Leonid Kuchma did not miss an opportunity to attack the lawmakers, which is already a “tradition” of his public speeches. Commenting on the Swiss arrest of the former premier and member of parliament, Pavlo Lazarenko (see the Monitor, December 4, 7), Kuchma snapped: “Now most criminals are hiding behind their deputy mandates.” He blasted parliamentary factions–for “attempts to monopolize the right” to nominate presidential candidates for the upcoming elections. Kuchma apparently meant the idea of introducing into the electoral draft law (see the Monitor, December 7), a regulation allowing only parties to nominate a candidate. Despite the fact that half of the parliament was elected from party lists, Kuchma said that the political parties “represent only 2-3 percent of the people.” It is worth remembering that neither of the parties represented in parliament has yet voiced support of Kuchma in the elections scheduled for October 1999.

Kuchma also warned that he would not “simply” sign the presidential electoral law. He recalled being “virtually compelled” by the legislature to sign the parliamentary electoral law last winter, when not much time remained before the elections of March 29. Kuchma, at least in theory, may disrupt the elections by refusing to sign the law or by signing it too late, if he does not find that the draft favors his prospects for re-election. The president wants, in particular, that the race should officially start not five months before the elections, as foreseen by the draft now discussed in parliament, but only ninety days before the event. This could make the elections less expensive, but it–a short campaign–would probably benefit Kuchma as the incumbent president, leaving his rivals less time for political advertisement.

Quite unexpectedly, Kuchma called for a referendum to amend the constitution, which was approved in the summer of 1996. In particular, he suggested the introduction of a bicameral parliament, in which the upper chamber would consist of regional representatives, who would “act out of economic rather than political reasons.” Kuchma said that presidential powers to issue decrees on economic issues not regulated by existing laws should be prolonged for five more years, because “economic reforms cannot bring fruit in four years.” Later in the day, Kuchma’s press secretary, Oleksandr Martynenko, had to urgently interpret this “slip of the tongue” to the media. Martynenko explained that the president actually meant not prolongation of his first term, but of the constitution’s transitional regulation, which itself allows introduction of economic legislation by presidential decree (Ukrainian agencies, STV, ICTV, 1st TV Channel, December 15). Arguably, Kuchma’s several economic decrees of the summer of 1998, aimed at liberalizing the economy, to a certain extent, in the autumn, cushioned the effects on Ukraine of the financial crisis in Russia.–OV