Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law on the Cabinet of Ministers that strengthens the Cabinet vis-à-vis the president. The law fills in gaps left in the national legislation by the imperfect constitutional reform of 2004-2006, interpreting in the Cabinet’s favor the points dealing with relations between the branches of power that were not clearly spelled out in the new text of the constitution. President Viktor Yushchenko vetoed the law, but on January 12 parliament overrode his veto. Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko sided with the majority, unexpectedly for Yushchenko.
This was not the first time Tymoshenko has helped the majority coalition led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych override Yushchenko’s veto. On January 9, Tymoshenko backed the majority to override Yushchenko’s veto of a law banning the sale of agricultural land until 2008. The coalition cannot easily override Yushchenko’s vetoes, as it fills significantly fewer than the 300 seats needed to override presidential vetoes in the 450-seat chamber. But if supported by the 121-strong Tymoshenko faction, this becomes easy for the coalition.
Yushchenko vetoed the law on the Cabinet on January 11, saying that it “distorted the essence of the constitution.” On January 12, however, parliament overrode the veto with 370 combined votes from the coalition and the Tymoshenko bloc, while only Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine upheld the veto. Our Ukraine parliamentary leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko accused Tymoshenko of de facto joining the Yanukovych-led coalition, and Our Ukraine deputies walked out of the chamber in protest.
Yushchenko and his team particularly object to the following provisions of the new law:
that the parliamentary majority shall appoint the prime minister and the ministers of foreign affairs and the interior (previously presidential picks) if the president fails to do so “within 15 days”;
that parliament shall pass the cabinet’s action plans as resolutions, rather than laws, so the president has no power to veto them;
that deputy ministers shall be appointed by the Cabinet – Yushchenko had insisted that his opinion should be sought first;
that the cabinet may send presidential decrees back to the president for revision;
that the labor law does not apply to cabinet ministers – meaning that ministers may not appeal against dismissal by parliament in courts; and
that the Security and Defense Council – a body directly subordinated to the president – “may not interfere in the Cabinet’s work.”
In return for backing the Cabinet law, Tymoshenko secured majority support for two laws that will boost her own power. Parliament on the same day passed the first reading of the bill on the parliamentary opposition and approved the law on the “imperative mandate,” which bans local deputies from changing affiliation – both with 362 votes.
The bill on the opposition should give the largest opposition party –Tymoshenko’s – the right to nominate a deputy parliamentary speaker and the chairs to several parliamentary committees. And with the help of the “imperative mandate,” Tymoshenko should be able to stanch the outflow of local councilors from her party, which started in the middle of last year. Also, this should allow Tymoshenko’s people to set up a majority at the Kyiv city council, one of the leaders of her bloc, MP Oleksandr Turchynov, said. Tymoshenko does not conceal her desire to oust Yushchenko-backed Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky with the help of the council.
Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz confirmed at a press conference on January 12 that the veto and laws passed on that day were the result of an agreement between Tymoshenko and the majority. Tymoshenko, explaining her move, said she wanted to put an end to “the political confrontation” caused by imperfect constitutional reform. Tymoshenko brushed off Our Ukraine’s accusations of “betrayal.” She also ruled out “any fundamental, consistent, or systematic cooperation” with Yanukovych in the future.
Former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, commenting on the new Cabinet law at his own press conference on January 12, accused Yanukovych of “usurpation of power.” Lutsenko, a faithful ally of Yushchenko, earlier set up a movement called People’s Self-Defense, which seeks Yanukovych’s dismissal and parliament’s dissolution (see EDM, January 3).
Yushchenko will veto the laws passed by parliament on January 12 and will not sign the law on the Cabinet, said Arseny Yatsenyuk, a deputy head of the presidential secretariat. The president promised to appeal the Cabinet law at the Constitutional Court. Yushchenko told a briefing on January 14 that the law “seriously violated” the National Unity Declaration signed by Yushchenko and Yanukovych last August, as the Declaration provided for joint work on documents like the law on the Cabinet. He also regretted that Tymoshenko had backed the law.
Relations between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are seriously damaged. It is not clear how — or even if — they will jointly work to achieve an early parliamentary election and constitutional reform reversal – the goals declared by Tymoshenko and apparently shared by Yushchenko. Meanwhile, the law on the Cabinet, if not rejected by the Constitutional Court, should bring Ukraine closer to a parliamentary form of government.
Channel 5, January 9, 11, 12; Ukrayinska pravda, Glavred.info, January 12; Zerkalo nedeli, January 13; ProUA, January 14)