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Yushchenko calls for constitutional change
Journal Staff Report

KIEV, July 1 - President Viktor Yushchenko said he will press for a referendum to approve new constitutional amendments that would decisively shift power away from Parliament.

The amendments would create an upper house of Parliament that would include elected officials to represent the country's diverse regions, in addition to reducing the number of seats in the lower house of Parliament.

The move would mark a reversal of the parliamentary dominance established under the December 2004 amendments approved as part of the political settlement in which Yushchenko ascended to the presidency.

These constitutional amendments shifted the balance of power to the prime minister. The result has been political stalemate as the president has tried to resist the subsequent waning of his power and influence.

"I stand for strengthening the role of Parliament," Yushchenko speaking Wednesday on the occasion of the Constitution Day. "At the same time we have to make it impossible to turn Parliament into the highest organ of tstate power."

"Ukraine needs strong authorities, but the system must be clear and balanced with concrete responsibilities by the head of state, Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers," Yushchenko said.

The creation of the upper house of parliament is thought to be a move that would de-facto strengthen the role of the president. The upper house would have to approve key bills and decisions that had been approved by the lower house and perhaps preventing a stand-off similar to the one that Yushchenko had faced from Parliament controlled by his opponents.

The plan for the creation of the upper house of Parliament is likely to come under criticism from the pro-government coalition. The Regions Party, the largest group in the coalition, has already issued a statement criticizing the plan.

The December 2004 vote weakening the powers of the president, was pressed by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and was a condition that would allow the free and fair vote had eventually led to the victory of Yushchenko.

The amendments led to standoff between Yushchenko and his rival, Viktor Yanukovych, who became prime minister following the general election in March 2006.

But a heated debate will probably also emerge on how the amendments have to be approved. The constitution currently requires the approval of two-thirds of lawmakers, while Yushchenko plans to bypass Parliament and appeal directly to the people.

Ihor Pukshyn, Yushchenko's top legal advisor, said the referendum may occur as soon as the Sept. 30 snap election already called by the president.

"Should these new amendments get approved by the Ukrainian people, they will immediately have the power of law," Pukshyn said, adding that in this case the amendments would not have to be approved by two-thirds of Parliament. (nr/ez)




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