Ukraine shifts powers from parliament to president, move benefits new pro-Russian leader

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ukraine’s pro-Russian president gets new powers

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Constitutional Court on Friday shifted key powers from parliament to the presidency, a move that boosted the influence of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, but also threw the country into legal uncertainty.

The court invalidated a controversial political reform passed at the height of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests. Those amendments significantly strengthened the legislature and weakened the president’s powers.

The court ruled that those changes were unconstitutional and returned to the president the power to name the prime minister and other officials.

The decision was a victory for Yanukovych, who already has the support of the governing coalition and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, his longtime ally.

He praised the ruling and vowed to comply with it.

“As the guarantor of the Constitution I will implement this decision,” Yanukovych said in a statement posted on his website.

But the legal consequences of the ruling were unclear.

Some observers said the decision raises questions about the legitimacy of the current president and parliament and that new elections must be called.

“It’s a mess which will only get worse,” said Yuri Yakimenko, a political analyst with the Razumkov Center in Kiev. “It raises even more questions than the previous version of the constitution, even with all its flaws.”

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko called for immediate presidential and parliamentary elections. “This day will go down in the history of Ukraine as the day of killing of democracy and formation of dictatorship,” the former prime minister said. She lost the presidential election to Yanukovych.

The Constitution was hastily rewritten during the 2004 mass protests that swept pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power. Those protests, known as the Orange Revolution, broke out after Yanukovych was declared the winner after fraudulent election. He was forced to step down before new poll was held, which Yushchenko won.

Yanukovych became president earlier this year after securing a victory at the polls.

The 2004 constitutional changes, which empowered the parliament to choose the prime minister, were often contradictory and led to a paralyzing tug-of-war between the president and the prime minister, but at the same time ensured vibrant political competition.

Some analysts said that returning to the model of a strong president and a weaker parliament is a step back from democracy.

“It is a shift from a still imperfect but democratic system to a … presidential monarchy,” said political analyst Vadim Karasyov. “The president is going to be the top firefighter, the top policeman, the top judge and the top minister.”

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