KIEV, Dec. 27 – President Viktor Yushchenko on Thursday created a special panel that is supposed to rewrite Ukraine’s constitution, seeking to remove provisions he holds responsible for Ukraine’s deep constitutional crisis earlier this year.
The National Constitutional Council will be led by the president and will include a diversified group ranging from political leaders to lawyers, scientists and dignitaries.
The drafted amendments will be submitted for approval by the people at a referendum, an apparent contradiction of current constitutional provisions calling for parliamentary ratification.
“The political crisis, which has taken much from Ukraine’s prospects in the context of the economy, finance and trade, led to the understanding that changing the constitution is one of the pressing issues,” Yushchenko said at a press conference.
Yushchenko has always been critical of the constitutional amendments that had been hastily approved by Parliament in December 2004 - in the midst of the so-called Orange Revolution that catapulted him to the presidency - under pressure from outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.
Kuchma, who had been desperately seeking to limit Yushchenko’s future powers, pushed hard for the amendments that shifted much of presidential powers to the prime minister.
Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine group, along with other lawmakers, then voted for the amendments to prevent bloodshed between Kuchma’s police and protesters backing Yushchenko for the presidency.
But the emergence of Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian figure and Yushchenko’s main rival, as the prime minister in August 2006, triggered major deadlocks between the president and premier, particularly centering around Yanukovych attempts to grab even more powers from the president and to derail key Yushchenko initiatives such as Ukraine’s accession to NATO.
The relations deteriorated rapidly and reached a pinnacle in May, when special police units loyal to the prime minister stormed a Prosecutor General Office building, clashing on the way with agents loyal to the president.
Now, with the more pro-Western coalition led by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko controlling a majority in Parliament following the Sept. 30 election, Yushchenko seeks to capitalize on the gain and to reverse the concessions made by his Orange forces in 2004.
“I am convinced the first step in drafting the new constitution must be made by the National Constitutional Council,” Yushchenko said. “We have to learn the lesson from what has happened in 2004. The constitution must not be written personally for somebody, but must come through transparent procedures that would promote trust.”
The council is supposed to include members of political parties, members of Parliament in Crimea, Ukraine’s autonomous region, representatives of regional councils, law enforcement agencies and human right groups, he said.
Yushchenko’s decree sets a deadline of Jan. 15, 2008, for parties and groups to nominate members to the council.
Once the new constitution is drafted, it will be submitted for approval at a referendum.
Critics will probably say that this would clash with the existing constitution, which allows only Parliament to make the amendments by a 300-strong vote in the 450-seat legislature.
But Yushchenko countered this that the case is different, suggesting that the entire new constitution must be approved by the people.
“When we talk about the new edition of the constitution, you understand that this is not the competence of Parliament,” Yushchenko said. “I am convinced the constitution must be approved by a national referendum.” (tl/ez)