Opposition shifts its position, abandons drive to oust Kuchma

by Jan Maksymiuk
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report

It seems that the Ukrainian parliamentary opposition - the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc - has already abandoned its unproductive drive to oust President Leonid Kuchma ahead of the end of his second term in the autumn of 2004. It should be remembered that not so long ago, on March 9, tens of thousands of people at an anti-presidential rally in Kyiv demanded early presidential elections. Now, however, the opposition's main concern appears to be about preventing Mr. Kuchma from remaining in office beyond his legitimate term - this possibility is implicitly included in the bill on political reform that Kuchma submitted to the Verkhovna Rada last month.

On April 14 the leaders of the three above-mentioned opposition parties - Petro Symonenko, Oleksander Moroz and Ms. Tymoshenko - and Our Ukraine Chairman Viktor Yushchenko signed a "Memorandum Regarding Political Reform," which modifies their hitherto-pursued goals to some significant extent.

The memorandum proposes that the president, the Verkhovna Rada and the local government bodies work until the end of their current terms.

Regarding changes in Ukraine's constitutional system, the memorandum postulates to preserve the unicameral Parliament (Mr. Kuchma proposed two houses, and a reduction in the number of lawmakers); to give the Parliament the right to approve a prime minister (nominated by the president) and all Cabinet ministers (nominated by the prime minister); and to give the president the right to dissolve the Parliament if it fails to gather for a session within 30 days after its election or form a Cabinet within 60 days after the inaugural sitting.

The memorandum also proposes that parliamentary and local elections (except for rural councils) be held under a fully proportional system.

The opposition document slams the Kuchma proposals for constitutional reform by saying that these proposals "do not meet the interests of society; are conducive to making presidential power absolute, abolishing the parliamentary system and sprouts of the independent judiciary, and replicating structures and functions of the authorities; and destroy local government." The opposition is convinced that the presidential proposals to change the constitution "are dangerous for society and lead to the usurpation of power by giving a small circle of people the right to make strategic decisions in the country [and] ruin the state integrity."

The four leaders also signed an appeal to President Kuchma proposing to hold "public television debates" on constitutional changes in order to clarify "on what positions the president stands and what positions are proposed by us."

It seems that proposals to reform the political system in Ukraine (first voiced by the opposition in 2000 and "appropriated" by Mr. Kuchma in 2002) have finally been transmitted to the electorate and found some support there.

According to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies earlier this month, 85.2 percent of Ukrainians support the presidential proposal to reduce the number of lawmakers from 450 to 300; 48 percent back the presidential idea to hold presidential and legislative elections in the same year; and 43.7 percent want to give the president the right to dissolve the Parliament. It appears that, sooner or later, Ukraine's constitutional system will have to be modified.

The opposition obviously feels the public urge to reform the political system in the country as a way out of the permanent political crisis, but it is also aware of the danger of extending President Kuchma's term in office by supporting his draft bill (while this danger is only dimly, if at all, perceived by the general public).

Therefore, the opposition's efforts now seem to be focused on torpedoing the Kuchma-proposed constitutional-reform bill in the Verkhovna Rada and, possibly, delaying "essential" constitutional amendments beyond the end of Mr. Kuchma's term, when the presidential election is expected to bring not only a new president but also a change in the political climate and ruling elites.

Jan Maksymiuk is the Belarus, Ukraine and Poland specialist on the staff of RFE/RL Newsline.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 27, 2003, No. 17, Vol. LXXI

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