The April 2 decree of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to dissolve the parliament and hold new legislative elections generated a political crisis that is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Reminiscent of the social unrest during the 2004 Orange Revolution, demonstrators are again filling Kiev’s main squares.
This crisis originated with the constitutional reforms adopted by the Ukrainian parliament in December 2004, which led to the election of Victor Yushchenko as president in January 2005. The new constitution after January 2006 introduced a parliamentary-presidential system. The failure of Mr. Yushchenko to hold his government together led to the March 2006 dissolution of parliament and new elections. In January 2007 a new government headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich adopted further constitutional reforms, limiting the president’s power, allowing the parliament to appoint new ministers and the prime minister to veto presidential decrees. So many members of parliament began defecting that Mr. Yushchenko faced the possibility of 300 or more of them overriding his veto. Thus he issued the controversial April 2 decree.
In Kiev, the prime minister, in an exclusive April 18 interview, argued that the political crisis can be resolved by a Constitutional Court ruling “on the legality of President Yushchenko’s decree to dissolve the Ukrainian Parliament. Whatever the decision is, it must be accepted by all parties without exception. The Constitution should be the law for everybody if we want to create a law-based country.” Meanwhile, the president stands accused of pressuring the judges.
The premier does not oppose new elections: “There is no hidden danger in holding an election in and of itself, but there is danger in establishing a precedent of violating the constitution.” Implementing Mr. Yushchenko’s decree, he says, “could establish a precedent of allowing illegal early dissolution of [a] legitimately elected parliament. First and foremost this would be an assault on the inviolability of democratic procedures and a threat to the authority of the ‘rule of law’ in Ukraine. Who can say what violation of the constitution would come next if we accept an unconstitutional dissolution of the [parliament] today?” Mr. Yanukovich warns that allowing the president to unconstitutionally call for early elections, until satisfied with the results, would throw Ukraine into permanent political crisis.
Moreover, “Article 90 of the Principal Law establishes the provisions governing legal elections,” says the premier. But the president’s call for new elections does not comply with the constitution, and a parliamentary majority objects to his action. “So, let the Constitutional Court… established to deal with such of cases, deliver its ruling.”
The premier is willing to negotiate a compromise. “It’s not too late,” he says. But holding early elections would be possible only if the Constitutional Court ruled the presidential decree constitutional, and the parliament introduced new legislation concerning early elections, which current Ukrainian law does not adequately address.
Otherwise, early elections would be possible if the Constitutional Court decided the presidential decree was unconstitutional, and all political parties and the president agreed on new elections anyway. Given Ukraine’s recent economic growth and development, Mr. Yanukovich believes he would receive an even larger voter mandate if the elections were held soon.
The premier raises serious concerns about attempts to influence and interfere with the independence of the Constitutional Court. Attempts to exert undue influence can damage the court and delay its deliberations. He explains that such attempts to discredit the judges are “old-school politics and should be emphatically discouraged.”
Mr. Yanukovich concludes: “This is a very dangerous game.” He believes that discrediting both the judiciary and legislative branch will undermine confidence in law and justice. Such activities are intended to destroy Ukraine’s young democracy. “Our Government, the Parliamentary Coalition and I, personally, will accept any decision by the Constitutional Court. We expect the same from all participants in the political process,” he emphasized.
The prime minister points out that the presidential decree ignored Article 90 of Ukraine’s Constitution. His call for the dissolution of the parliament met none of the specific conditions under which it may be dismissed. The premier outlined the provision’s three requirements for the president to legally dissolve the parliament: First, it may be dissolved within a month of an election if the premier is unable to form a majority coalition; Second, if the prime minister cannot form a new cabinet within 60 days after the cabinet resigns; Third, if a full new parliamentary session cannot convene within 30 days of adjournment of the previous regular assembly of parliament.
As for the parliamentary request for international mediation, the premier believes it may be necessary if the neither the Constitutional Court nor political negotiations resolve the crisis. In that case, international intervention would help prevent violent civil confrontation. To prevent the worst-case scenario, he said, “we have submitted a request for mediation to Austria — a neutral European Union member country… [and] would be happy with other international participation.”
On April 10, President Bush signed into law the expansion of NATO, to include Ukraine along with four other countries. Mr. Yanukovich notes: “Ukraine has proven its efficiency and reliability in participating in peacekeeping operations and remains an active participant in joint world efforts in this sphere.” Nevertheless, the he recognizes that only 20 per cent of population supports joining NATO, adding that “this issue must be resolved by national referendum.” He notes that Sweden, similarly, did not join the alliance because only 55 percent of public supports it.
Besides, to carry its weight in the alliance, Ukraine must first complete election-law reforms as well as changes in judicial, civil and administrative procedures.
U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic concern Mr. Yanukovich only insofar as they sow discord between “our two strategic partners and security guarantors.” To succeed, they must minimize the risk of nuclear confrontation. The premier remarks: “We are aware of Russia’s negative reaction, which currently perceives it as a potential threat… [and] that there is no common opinion in this regard among European countries… [even] President Yushchenko has said that he is concerned about this issue.” Mr. Yanukovich adds that Ukraine has “something to offer,” including “space observation systems and experts who could significantly help in establishing such a global system.”
Mr. Yanukovich considers Ukraine’s potential membership in the World Trade Organization as “one of the top priorities of foreign economic policy of Ukraine.” Indeed, under his government, the parliamentary coalition has passed all the necessary legislation. However, the current domestic political turmoil threatens Ukraine’s efforts to join the WTO. Ultimately, the prime minister hopes that WTO membership “will foster deeper integration of Ukraine into the European space, promote cooperation in the energy sphere, and international transportation, trade and industrial cooperation.” He added that Ukraine would like it if Russia could join at the same time.
Rachel Ehrenfeld is the director of American Center for Democracy and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.