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Ukraine - Government

Ukraine has a presidential-parliamentary system of government with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. Ukraine's parliamentary-presidential form of government means the composition of its legislative body — the Verkhovna Rada — controls a range of issues from domestic and foreign policy to budgetary allocations and most ministerial appointments. Although Ukraine's constitution allows the President to handpick ministers of foreign affairs and defense, the Rada suggests a candidate for prime minister. Once confirmed by the legislative body, the prime minister then is required to subject his own picks for other ministerial posts to further rounds of confirmation.

The constitution dictates that half of all parliamentarians are to be elected from single-mandate districts, where local politics can outweigh party preference. The prime minister is appointed by the president with the consent of more than one-half of the parliament. The prime minister, first deputy prime minster, three deputy prime ministers, and cabinet ministers are appointed by the president based on a submission by the prime minister. The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget. Its members are elected to 5-year terms.

On 9 March 2010, parliament adopted an amendment to the law on parliamentary collations making it possible to form a majority on the basis of individual deputies, not factions. A majority coalition was subsequently formed comprising the Party of Regions, Bloc of Lytvyn, Communist Party and a number of individual deputies from other factions. A cabinet headed by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was appointed on 11 March 2010.

Following free elections held on December 1, 1991, Leonid M. Kravchuk, former chairman of the Rada, was elected to a 5-year term as Ukraine's first president. At the same time, a referendum on independence was approved by more than 90% of the voters. Shortly after becoming independent, Ukraine named a parliamentary commission to prepare a new constitution, adopted a multi-party system, and adopted legislative guarantees of civil and political rights for national minorities. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996, mandating a pluralistic political system with protection of basic human rights and liberties.

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech and of the press, and individuals have been able criticize the government publicly and privately. Following changes in government leadership after the 2010 presidential election, there were reports that central authorities had attempted to direct media content. While independent and international media have been active and have expressed a wide variety of opinions, government pressure on both independent and state-owned media has caused some journalists and media owners to practice self-censorship on matters that the government has deemed sensitive. There have also been reports of intimidation and violence against journalists by national and local officials. Although private media outlets operate on a commercial basis and have generally operated free of direct state control or interference, private newspapers often depend on their owners (political patrons or oligarchs with government connections) for revenue and have not enjoyed editorial independence.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, although religious organizations are required to register with local authorities and with the central government. There is no formal state religion.

Minority rights are largely respected in accordance with a 1991 law guaranteeing ethnic minorities the right to schools and cultural facilities and the use of national languages in conducting personal business. However, the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority, which was deported from Crimea under Stalin in 1944, has expressed concern that the government inadequately funds the construction of Crimean Tatar schools for returnees. According to the constitution, Ukrainian is the only official state language. In Crimea and some parts of eastern Ukraine--areas with substantial ethnic Russian minorities--local and regional governments permit Russian as a language for local official correspondence.

The Crimean peninsula is home to a number of pro-Russian political organizations that advocate secession of Crimea from Ukraine and annexation to Russia. Crimea was ceded by the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, in recognition of historic links and for economic convenience, to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine's union with Russia. In July 1992, the Crimean and Ukrainian parliaments determined that Crimea would remain under Ukrainian jurisdiction while retaining significant political, economic, and cultural autonomy.

In the lead-up to the fall 2003 election, Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma pursued constitutional changes that would shift substantial powers from the presidency to the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on the eve of the presidential election in which a strong opponent of the President was leading in the polls. In response to concerns expressed by many nations, President Kuchma dropped the most egregious provision, which would have replaced the direct election of the president with an election by the Ukrainian parliament. The proponents of this measure primarily relied on backroom maneuvering to push through their changes. Although President Kuchma argued that he was not advocating these changes to strengthen his position, since he has said he will not run for reelection, many concerns existed that he was doing so to fortify the position of his allies in the legislature. In a sign that true democratic aspirations in Ukraine were still alive, those changes to the Ukrainian constitution failed by six votes in April 2004.

In the midst of the Orange Revolution, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a package of legislation, consisting of an amendment to the existing election law to prevent fraud in the repeat run-off of the vote and a bill on constitutional reform. The constitutional reform reduced some of the powers that were enjoyed by the president of Ukraine and awarded them to the parliament and the prime minister. The most important of these powers is the right to appoint and to discharge the prime minister as well as several key ministers, such as defense and foreign ministers. The prime minister is awarded the right to create reform and eliminate ministries. The constitutional reform came into effect on January 1, 2006. Thereafter, the authority of the president of Ukraine were decreased, and the parliament and the prime minister will enjoy expanded powers.

Only the Socialist Party supported constitutional reforms; the Tymoshenko bloc and the Party Industrialists and Entrepreneurs were opposed, while Our Ukraine was evenly divided, fearing both to weaken the presidency's ability to push through reforms and advantage the Left. Critics of the constitutional reform argue that these changes are not timely because a strong office of the president would ensure that the much-needed radical reforms are implemented, and awarding key powers to the parliament through weakening the executive decreases the potential for change. Several members of the Yushchenko team, such as the Secretary of the National Security Council Petro Poroshenko and Head of Presidential Administration Oleksandr Zinchenko, as well as Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Deputy Prime Minister Anatoli Kinakh, publicly criticized the reform and have promised to challenge it by putting it up for national referendum. The law was also subject to challenge in the Constitutional Court, since procedural violations allegedly took place in the voting process, specifically adopting a change to the Constitution together with another piece of legislation.

Amendments to the 1996 constitution were adopted during the 2004 "Orange Revolution" and took effect in January 2006, shifting significant powers from the president to the prime minister and Rada. In a closed-door ruling lacking transparency, the Constitutional Court (including many recently appointed judges) on 01 October 2010 announced that the 2004 amendments were unconstitutional because procedures used to adopt them violated the constitution. The court reinstated the 1996 constitution, which granted greater powers to the presidency, returning the government to a presidential-parliamentary system. The 2004 amendments had been the result of a hasty political compromise in the Rada. The Rada had made changes to the law after it had been reviewed by the Constitutional Court; this, rendered those amendments unconstitutional. Consequently, the Rada (Parliament) lost its influence on the executive branch of power and is unable to control or influence the government's activities through its decrees and resolutions.

Constitutional Reform

The EU has been calling for reforms of the Ukrainian Constitution in line with recommendations by Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on Constitutional matters, and Ukraine's commitment under the Action Plan and Association Agenda. However, no real progress has been made.

By 2008 there was at least one thing, despite their many differences, that most Ukrainian politicians agreed on: the Ukrainian constitution is in need of reform. There is also general agreement that the unclear delineation of powers between the presidency and prime minister/parliament was the constitution's most glaring flaw. Both the Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Party of Regions (leading opposition) support a strengthening of the role of parliament vis a vis the presidency. The threshold for a constitutional majority is 300 votes (out of 450) in the Rada. Such a majority would require a political compact between the Tymoshenko bloc and the Party of Regions -- unlikely.

In 2007 President Yushchenko established the now-dormant National Constitution Council to rewrite the constitution. The council held one session in early 2008 but fell apart because the major political parties could not agree on procedure, much less on outcomes. Yushchenko on 23 February 2009 publicly renewed his call for a national referendum on amendments to the constitution, stating that the 2004 amendments unbalanced the branches of power. On February 24, Vice Speaker of the Rada Oleksandr Lavrynovych (Party of Regions) told the press that amendments to the constitution were needed to correct mistakes made in 2004. Lavrynovych stated that he would seek to place constitutional reform on the current parliament's agenda.

The President, the Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT) and Regions all put forward draft constitutions since early 2008. The Presidential Secretariat draft favored a strong presidential system, a bicameral legislature and removed all social economic language from the constitution in favor of focusing on fundamental rights and freedoms. Both BYuT and Regions were working on separate drafts that strengthened the prime minister at the expense of the president. The drafts envisioned making the presidency a largely symbolic position and moving Ukraine closer to a two-party system. However, BYuT and Regions did not agree on key details -- such as which office makes what appointments and whether there should be two rounds for parliamentary elections.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense (and former Defense Minister), Anatoliy Hrytsenko in early February submitted a draft constitution to the Rada. His draft, termed a "constitution of order," called for a strong president to form and lead the government. In order to prevent authoritarianism, the president would serve four years instead of five. Hrytsenko would also simplify impeachment procedures. The draft had little support in the Rada.

Despite recent pronouncements by the President and Vice Speaker in favor of constitutional reform, legal experts contend that it would be difficult for any constitutional amendments to pass before the presidential election (expected in January 2010). They cite complex procedures and the need for political consensus among the two largest parties -- BYuT and Regions. According to the constitution, a draft law on introducing amendments may be submitted to the Rada by the President or by 150 deputies (except for amendments to Chapters I - General Principles, Chapter III - Elections, Referendum, and Chapter XIII - Introducing Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine). Before amendments go to a vote, the Constitutional Court needs to approve them. Amendments become law if in the next session of the Rada 300 of the deputies vote in favor.

If the suggested amendments deal with Chapters I, III or XII, the law can be submitted by the President or by 300 deputies. The amendments still need to be reviewed by the Constitutional court and then pass by 300 votes in the next session. A final wrinkle is that amendments to these chapters also need to be approved in a national referendum. The Rada would need to pass new referendum legislation since the law currently refers to a number of governmental organizations that do not now exist.

The lack of political consensus and the need to reach 300 votes are the current sticking points according to legal experts. Amendments would need a consensus between the Tymoshenko bloc and the Party of Regions. There would be little incentive for the parties to make amendments on division of power between the prime minister and president with the presidential election outcome still in doubt. The Civic Constitution Committee in 2008 authored a "green book" that outlined a process for writing a new constitution that involved establishing a constitutional committee whose members would be both popularly elected and designated by the government. Members would be prohibited from serving in government for five years. The green book was a "fantasy" and that the constitution could only be changed by consensus of the political elite. Given the difficulty in attaining 226 votes (a bare majority) in the Rada on controversial measures, the 300 votes needed to form a constitutional majority was a tall order in this contentious presidential election year.

In the opinion the President Yanukovich,judicial reform in 2010 achieved positive results. In his 2013 recent address to the Parliament, the President stated: “However, certain requirements of the Council of Europeto introduce new democratic standards of judicial proceedings in Ukraine, can not be implemented without amendments to the Constitution”. On 11 October 2013 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine gave its preliminary approval to a bill of amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine to strengthen the guarantees of the independence of judges. A resolution on the preliminary approval of the bill submitted by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was supported by 244 out of the 410 lawmakers registered in the session hall. The decision was backed by 197 MPs of the Party of Regions, 31 MPs of the Communist Party and 16 independent lawmakers. Under the Constitution of Ukraine, the amendments to the constitution are made by the parliament in two sessions, at the first of which the bill must receive at least 226 votes, and at the second no less than 300 votes.

President Yanukovychs established the Constitutional Assembly presided over by Leonid Kravchuk. It developed a draft of amendments to the Constitution. The first president said in January 2014 they were awaiting approval at a meeting of the assembly and wuld then be submitted to President Yanukovych for consideration.

The text of the new Constitution of Ukraine should be signed and approved by the Verkhovna Rada until May 25, 2014, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said in the Verkhovna Rada on 29 April 2014. "The text of the new Constitution should be signed and agreed upon before May 25, 2014 in the Ukrainian parliament. Thereafter, it is necessary to send it to the Venice Commission and the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. It is necessary to sign this document until May 25 to ensure that every Ukrainian know about the future powers of the president, whom he elected," Yatseniuk noted. He also urged all without exception political forces to sign the future revised basic law.

On 17 April 2014, the Cabinet of Ministers issued an Order “On the organization of the discussion of amendments to the provisions of the Constitution of Ukraine on the decentralization of State power”. By 1 October 2014, senior government officials, the regional administrations and the Kyiv city administration are to organise debates on the planned constitutional amendments that would propose the decentralization of power.

According to the Parliamentary Interim Commission on Constitutional Reform, the main areas of the Constitutional reform are: extension of powers of local self-government, to achieve a balance between all branches of power; the development of an independent judicial branch; oversight of public authorities. Under a new Constitution regional and district state administrations will be dissolved. Local territorial communities would elect regional and district councils (local parliaments) and their heads. The executive committees of local councils would serve as local governments. State power and authority, as well as the functions of setting the local budget would be delegated to such structures. At the same time, state representative bodies would be created and located at the territorial level. They will maintain control over the adherence to legislation in a certain territory but would have no financial or economic influence in the region.

Public parliamentary hearings were held on amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on 29 April 2014, with the main areas of reform aiming to empower local governments, strike a balance between all branches of State power, ensure the independence of the judiciary, and oversight of the work of public authorities. Political parties agreed that by 25 May 2014 proposals on constitutional amendments will be finalised, with a Parliamentary session on constitutional reform to be held after this date.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2019 18:57:12 ZULU