Jenni, here's the latest. It sounds a little as though Yushchenko wants to change the rules because he doesn't like the way the game is turning out. Oh well, he probably figures it's worth a try. After all, GWB got away with it in 2000 with the Florida recount....
Yushchenko promises ‘more democratic’ constitution
By Tom Warner in Kiev
Published: January 13 2006 20:45 | Last updated: January 13 2006 20:45
Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, plans fresh constitutional changes as part of his bid to reassert authority over a turbulent political system and overcome a rebellion by parliament, which this week voted to sack his cabinet.
In a Financial Times interview, Mr Yushchenko said he wanted to revise again Ukraine’s constitution, which was changed on January 1 to reduce his powers in favour of the parliamentary majority.
He proposes that fresh constitutional changes should be decided through a national referendum after parliamentary elections in March.
Taking a defiant tone that contrasted with his usually mild demeanour in interviews, Mr Yushchenko insisted he had not been the least bit weakened by the vote on Tuesday. His government would disregard the move because it had not followed constitutional procedure: before sacking the government at least a third of parliament had to sign a petition calling for the vote, but that was not done, he said. “So one can say parliament committed a serious violation of the constitution,” he said.
He claimed the episode would actually help his party, Our Ukraine, gain support, because supporters of the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought him to power would turn away from Yulia Tymoshenko, his former prime minister who joined pro-Russian opposition parties in Tuesday’s vote.
Defending his own record, Mr Yushchenko predicted his party would take the lead role in forming the next government after defeating the main pro-Russian party, Regions, led by his rival in the 2004 presidential election, Viktor Yanukovich.
The issue of the constitution would then be revisited through a democratic process, unlike this week’s vote, which he described as “unconstitutional and illegal”. “That the constitution will have to be defended is an obvious fact, with the help of the people, with the help of a referendum, with the mobilisation of all democratic forces,” Mr Yushchenko said.
He said that the Orange Revolution had promoted freedom of speech and honest political competition. “No one is persecuting anybody, not the state security service, not the police, not the president, not the prime minister.”
He added that Ukraine’s economy had come through the Orange Revolution in reasonable shape with gross domestic product growing at 3 per cent last year and wages increasing 35 per cent. Foreign investment had increased to $7bn, compared with a total of $9bn over the previous 14 years.
On the constitutional front, however, Mr Yushchenko appears to be setting himself up for a tough struggle against his political opponents, who argue he is trying to back out of a fair compromise that prevented a stand-off between supporters and opponents of the Orange Revolution from turning violent.
The switch to a more parliamentary system was adopted in December 2004 together with anti-vote-rigging laws that helped Mr Yushchenko win the presidency. The change in the political system, however, was also described by Mr Yushchenko as “an anti-constitutional action ... hidden from the people”.
Whether the president will succeed in changing the constitution and winning back any of the powers he lost on January 1 will depend largely on his party’s performance in the March vote,.
Two polls released on Friday after the interview on Thursday suggested this hangs in the balance. Democratic Initiatives, a respected polling group, had Mr Yanukovich’s Regions party leading with 31 per cent support and close to a majority together with other pro-Russian parties, while Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc had 16 per cent and Mr Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine 13 per cent.
Another poll showed Regions with 23 per cent and Our Ukraine and Ms Tymoshenko’s bloc with just over 15 per cent each.
In that scenario, Mr Yushchenko could insist on his party being in the ruling coalition but he would have to turn over considerable power to his rivals