Ukraine opposition defeats plan for power shift in government

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ukraine's democratic opposition has won a surprise parliamentary victory over constitutional reforms that it says are designed to keep the increasingly authoritarian government in power.

Ukraine's democratic opposition has won a surprise parliamentary victory over constitutional reforms that it says are designed to keep the increasingly authoritarian government in power.

The Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, and his allies in parliament narrowly failed this week to introduce constitutional changes that would have weakened presidential powers after vital autumn elections that most observers believe will determine whether Ukraine resumes its bumpy ride towards democracy.

Currently the parliament plays second fiddle to the President, who wields almost dictatorial powers, including choosing the prime minister.

However, all the opinion polls show that the leader of the democratic opposition, Viktor Yushchenko, who wants to introduce sweeping political and market reforms, will win the presidential elections.

Mr Kuchma has promised to retire at the end of this year but he and his wealthy businessmen supporters are worried a Yushchenko victory could mean prosecution and jail sentences for many of them. Their plan was to emasculate presidential powers and beef up those of a prime minister to be appointed by a parliament they thought they could control.

Mr Kuchma, President since 1994, has said the reforms would bring the Ukrainian political system in line with Western Europe, where the lion's share of power resides with the prime minister. But Mr Yushchenko, who is leader of the centre-right Our Ukraine Party, called the attempts to change the constitution tantamount to a "coup".

Western governments including Britain and institutions such as the European Union and Council of Europe criticised the timing of the constitutional reforms, saying they owed more to a desire to retain power than an urgent passion for democracy. The EU and Nato have warned Ukraine that its ambitions for membership depend on the outcome of the election.

Mr Kuchma's supporters in the 450-seat parliament have previously been able to swell their figures to muster a simple majority by using cash or intimidation. But constitutional changes require a two-thirds - 300 votes - majority. The government believed it could get that number after the Communists, who loathe Mr Yushchenko's pro-market policies, sided with Mr Kuchma.

Comments