Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and the ruling coalition in Kyiv have failed to find a compromise over the “Law on the Cabinet of Ministers.” The law is meant to complement the constitution, more clearly defining the remits of the president, the cabinet, and parliament; at the same time, it cuts Yushchenko’s authority. Yushchenko has vetoed the law. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and the coalition argued that he had violated the constitution by vetoing the same law twice. Yushchenko insisted that he had acted within his rights. The law came into effect despite Yushchenko’s protests, as it was published in the official newspapers signed by parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, an ally of Yanukovych. It is now up to the Constitutional Court to decide who is wrong.
Yushchenko argued that the law, originally passed last December, was out of tune with the constitution. He particularly objected to provisions stating that parliament appoints the prime minister and the ministers of foreign affairs and interior if the president fails to do so in a timely manner; that the president has no power to veto the Cabinet’s action plans; that deputy ministers are be appointed by the Cabinet; that ministers may not appeal their dismissal in courts; and that the Security and Defense Council may not influence the Cabinet’s decisions (see EDM, January 17).
Yushchenko vetoed the law for the first time on January 11, but on January 12 parliament overrode the veto by more than 300 votes out of the 450-seat chamber. Yushchenko promised that his legal advisors would find a way to outplay parliament, and he kept his word. On January 19, Yushchenko returned the law to parliament again. He said that this was not a second veto, which would have been a violation of the constitution, but a veto of a different law. It turned out that the texts he vetoed on January 11 and 19 differed on one point, where an original paragraph from the earlier version of the law was incorporated into the text of the previous paragraph in the newer version. This, according to Yushchenko, means that he vetoed a different law.
Moroz and Yanukovych flatly rejected Yushchenko’s argument, saying that the difference was a mere printing error, and the law would come into force without Yushchenko’s signature. Yanukovych, who is backed by the ruling coalition in parliament, suggested that parliament should later amend the law, taking account of some of Yushchenko’s objections. Yushchenko rejected the offer and warned Yanukovych and Moroz against publishing the law in the official press, which, according to the Ukrainian constitution, would mean it is coming into force.
Yushchenko’s warning was ignored. The text of the law was published in the newspaper of the cabinet, Uryadovy Kuryer, and of parliament, Holos Ukrainy, on February 2. This was the first case in Ukrainian history when a law was signed not by the president, but by Speaker Moroz. The latter argued that he was legally authorized to do that, as Yushchenko failed to sign the law within 10 days, as required by Ukrainian law. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus said that the publication of the law meant “complete usurpation of power by the Yanukovych cabinet and the ruling coalition.”
Yushchenko met Moroz and Yanukovych in his office on February 5, probably in an effort to negotiate a way out of the situation. The talks failed. The same evening, Yushchenko referred the law to the Constitutional Court. “The Cabinet cannot work or live with a fake passport,” he said. ”I am absolutely confident that the constitution does not empower the Speaker to sign laws returned by the president to parliament for revision.”
It is now up to the court to decide the fate of the law. It may take the court several months to deliver a verdict, and it is hard to predict the outcome. If Yushchenko takes the upper hand, and the law is returned to parliament, his veto may not be overridden again, depending on Yulia Tymoshenko’s position. On January 12, parliament overrode Yushchenko’s veto thanks to the votes of Tymoshenko’s faction. This was reportedly part of a deal between her and the ruling coalition in exchange for the coalition’s support for the laws on the opposition and on the binding mandate. The law on the binding mandate, allowing Tymoshenko to secure her grip over local councils, has since been passed, but the fate of the opposition law is still not clear.
On February 5, Tymoshenko and the leader of the Our Ukraine faction in parliament, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, signed a statement proclaiming a unified opposition. They declared that they aim to reverse constitutional reforms that decreased the president’s powers in favor of the Cabinet and parliament, and to hold an early parliamentary election to get rid of the pro-Yanukovych majority in parliament. If Tymoshenko is serious about a union with Yushchenko’s party, there is a slim chance that the coalition will secure her support for the Cabinet law for a second time.
(UNIAN, January 19; Channel 5, January 24, 31, February 2, 5; 1+1 TV, Kommersant Ukraina, February 5; Interfax-Ukraine, February 6)