Ukraine Court Overturns Limits on Presidential Power

Ukraine’s Constitutional Court overturned restraints on presidential power approved during the Orange Revolution, strengthening the authority of current head of state Viktor Yanukovych.

The 2004 constitutional amendments were illegal because the court didn’t review the measures before parliament approved them, Chairman Anatoliy Holovin said today in Kiev. The court ordered lawmakers to restore the 1996 constitution, under which the president chooses the prime minister and Cabinet.

The court “has de facto changed the constitution,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, an analyst at the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kiev. “There is a 90 percent probability that the 1996 constitution will be renewed automatically.”

Lawmakers passed the amendments in December 2004 under pressure from then-President Leonid Kuchma, who sought to limit the powers of Orange Revolution leader Viktor Yushchenko if he became president. Millions had poured into the streets after Yanukovych, Kuchma’s chosen successor and a supporter of closer ties with Russia, defeated Yushchenko in an election the Supreme Court later annulled because of fraud.

Kuchma refused to approve changes to the electoral law to prevent fraud during a re-run of the contest unless lawmakers approved the amendments. At the time, Kuchma’s allies controlled parliament.

1996 Again

Yushchenko eventually won the 2004 contest and served as president until February this year, when Yanukovych unseated him. Yanukovych has the support of 264 members of parliament.

Yanukovych ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in March after parliament approved a no-confidence motion. The president then appointed Mykola Azarov as prime minister with the support of 242 members of parliament. Tymoshenko said at the time that the changes were unconstitutional.

Under the amendments overturned today, the president is mainly in charge of foreign policy and appoints the defense and foreign ministers.

“We just woke up in 1996,” lawmaker Serhiy Vlasenko, a member of Tymoshenko’s group in parliament, said today. “There is no judicial logic in this decision. This is pure politics.”

Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said today that Ukraine should set up a special constitutional commission to ensure all the country’s laws comply with the court’s ruling.

‘Very Special’

“The situation is very special,” he said “There are lots of questions, including what to do with the ministers that were appointed by the premier. Can they be fired by the president?”

The court’s decision may undermine the coalition Yanukovych put together, led by his Party of Regions, creating difficulties in passing legislation, including the budget and changes to the tax code, Lytvyn said.

“Now there is no need for the coalition, so people may take care of their image and not vote for unpopular measures,” he said.

The Constitutional Court consists of 18 judges, with the president, parliament and Congress of Judges each appointing six members of the court for nine-year terms.

Four justices were forced to resign between Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, according to the court’s website. The Congress of Judges replaced them on Sept. 21, the court said in a statement.

“There was political pressure and an attempt to control the court through the replacement of judges, which undermined trust,” analyst Yakymenko said before the ruling.


“With President Viktor Yanukovych seizing more power, there is the potential for infighting among the Party of Regions if a reshuffling of top officials occurs,” Birgham Marriott, an analyst from Kiev-based investment bank Phoenix Capital said in a report sent to clients today.

The government may be “deemed illegitimate,” Marriott said. “There is also the potential for earlier than expected parliamentary elections,” which can be held in 2011 rather than 2012. The 1996 version of the Constitution envisages a four-year term for lawmakers whereas today’s parliament members were elected for five year term, according to the analyst.

“There is going to be a whole bunch of legal collisions” as legislation is brought in line with the 1996 constitution, said Olexiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy, by phone. “Even in such conditions the parliament will be able to protect its rights.” The issue is “whether the parliament will have the will to defend itself.”

Today’s court decision is not going to cause a massive reaction from the public, said Yuriy Yakymenko from Razumkov center. It concerns the redistribution of authorities, and “people do not see a big difference” between the two forms of ruling, he said.

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