Tuesday, March 31, 2009

KIEV, UKRAINE (AP) - Ukraine’s beleaguered president proposed constitutional changes Tuesday that would increase the president’s powers _ amendments analysts say could moderate the contentiousness that frequently paralyzes politics here.

In his annual address to parliament, Viktor Yushchenko called for the president to be granted the right to veto government decisions on foreign policy, defense and security matters. Currently, the president can only put such decisions on hold and challenge them in the country’s constitutional court.

He also proposed creating a second chamber of parliament, whose members would be elected single-seat districts. Seats in the current parliament are allotted based on the portion of the vote a party wins nationally.

Sessions of parliament often erupt in shouting matches and even fist fights between party blocs.

Analysts said that deputies representing particular districts would be less strongly tied to parties and more inclined toward compromise. That could give the president more authority as a negotiator between the chambers.



In another change, Yushchenko suggested limiting presidents to a single term, although nonconsecutive terms would be allowed. It was not clear whether he envisioned the term-limit as applying to himself.

Ukraine must hold presidential elections by January and Yushchenko’s proposals could be seen as an effort to strengthen his position before seeking re-election.

“All these changes have become timely,” Yushchenko said in lengthy speech to parliament.

The constitution was hastily rewritten during the 2004 Orange Revolution, increasing the powers of the prime minister and parliament at the expense of the presidency. Yushchenko, who was brought to power by those pro-democracy protests, agreed to the changes as part of a compromise.

As a result, many laws contradict each other and there is no clear division of power between president and prime minister. That has led in recent years to a string of government shake-ups, early elections and a tug-of-war between Yushchenko and his Orange Revolution ally Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that has exacerbated the effect of the global financial crisis on Ukraine.

“The president is trying to strengthen presidential powers with the second chamber,” said Vadim Karasyov, head of the Kiev-based Institute on Global Strategies, who has ties to Yushchenko’s office.

Karasyov said the proposal suggested Yushchenko may be considering running for a second term in a vote likely to take place in early January.

Once the highly celebrated Orange Revolution leader, Yushchenko, 55, has seen his popularity plummet to below 5 percent due to the slow pace of reforms, his struggle with Tymoshenko and the financial crisis.

Experts say Yushchenko will have a hard time in pushing through these changes amid an economic meltdown and with a presidential election looming.

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