The Tug-Of-War

MOSCOW, Russia -- The protracted conflict between Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has proceeded to a new stage.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in better days.

Ukraine’s main democrats proposed two mutually exclusive models of the country’s political structure: Mr Yushchenko lobbies for the presidential form of government, whereas Ms Tymoshenko promotes the parliamentary republic.

The ideological contradictions of the leaders of the “Orange team” are a sign of their final breakup.

What Man Wants

Yesterday the workgroup of the National Constitutional Council, established last year by a decree of the head of state, convened at the Secretariat of President Yushchenko, Kiev.

Five months ago Mr Yushchenko charged the body with drafting a new variant of the Constitution. Yesterday the Council, supervised by Marina Stavniychuk, Deputy Head of the Presidential Secretariat, delivered the results of its lawmaking routine.

According to the Communist Georgy Kryuchkov, member of the workgroup, “the final variant of the conception of the new Constitution” was settled at the meeting.

The document was scheduled to be publicly announced tomorrow. Mr Kryuchkov refused to give Kommersant any details of the approved conception.

As far back as February, when Mr Yushchenko presided over the first convention of the Council, consisting of some hundred experts, lawyers and politicians, it was clear that he was going to alter the Constitution so that his powers could be extended to the maximum.

“It is vital to secure the status of the President elected nation-wide as the guarantor of the Constitution, state sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr Yushchenko instructed the Council members.

Judging from the information Georgy Kryuchkov shared with Kommersant, it can be concluded that on the whole the Council followed the aspirations of Viktor Yushchenko.

Anyway, it is considered that Ukraine can adopt the French form of government, with a powerful President being the head of state.

“Different views were articulated: from keeping the current system to switching to the French system of prefects, so that the representatives of the President in certain areas could oversee the fulfillment of laws and the observation of the rights of citizens,” Mr Kryuchkov said.

According to him, the powers of the Cabinet of Ministers were discussed as well. “There is a kind of ambiguity in the structure of the government. Some ministers are appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and two (the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister) are appointed by the President. Everyone agreed that there is no return to the failed ambiguity of the government.”

The members of the workgroup unanimously agreed that the President must be in charge of the country’s foreign and defense policy, personally appoint the supreme command of the armed forces and other military entities.

“There is an obvious need for change now. The powers must be so balanced that the rules of play were clear to everyone,” Nikolay Poludenny, Advisor to Mr Yushchenko, explained to Kommersant, “I believe that for such kind of society as ours the presidential republic is the preferred form government. Our elites are not ready for anything else yet.”

The key concepts of the new, presidential draft of the Constitution will take shape after the whole Council considers them.

What Woman Wants

At first it seemed that the Prime Minister would simply watch the presidential team preparing amendments to the Constitution, but then it got evident that the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc was bracing itself for a counterattack against the President.

Ms Tymoshenko did her best to announce her ideas to the whole world. She chose the tribune of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to be the base of her attack.

Last Wednesday, speaking at the regular session of the PACE in Strasbourg, Yulia Tymoshenko suddenly declared that Ukraine must alter its Constitution so that it complied with the principles of the Council of Europe.

“We must separate powers, making Ukraine a traditional parliamentary republic, characteristic of European states. This model has advantage over any other monopolized form of government,” stated the Ukrainian Premier, with the PACE delegates welcoming the idea with a storm of applause.

Last Sunday Ms Tymoshenko made it clear which model she would like to see adopted. “In my opinion, with the parliamentary republic, order will be established, just like in Germany. At that, the post of the President will remain, as well as the nation-wide election,” said the Prime Minister in her interview to one of the Ukrainian channels.

She expressed her confidence that the team of Mr Yushchenko would support the idea. “I’m sure that we are a team working our way together. I’m sure, by the way, that the whole democratic coalition will vote for the amendments to the Constitution.”

It’s up to the Rada

Ms Tymoshenko’s reconciliatory statements that the Orange team should share her ideas can be regarded mere rhetoric. The bickering between the President and the Prime Minister concerning the right to alter the Ukrainian Constitution the way he/she wants points to a true fissure between the former allies.

Their disputes used to touch upon economic policy: the privatization of enterprises, the return of deposits with the former Sberbank of the USSR to the people, gas supplies from Russia and the payment for it.

The present conflict is mainly ideological, with the parties giving to understand that no compromise is possible.

From the outset Viktor Yushchenko stated that his draft of the Constitution must be approved of at a nation-wide referendum, promising to hold one by the end of this year, that is before the next presidential election 2009.

Mr Yushchenko appealed to the Constitutional Court to get the permission to prepare and hold this plebiscite. But the plans of the head of state dashed as last Friday the Court announced its verdict.

According to it, the Verkhovna Rada must determine the procedure, by means of amending the Constitution and the Law on Referendum. This said, to fulfil his plan, the President is to get the support of 300 lawmakers at least, which he does lack: the parliamentary faction of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense Bloc has only 72 mandates out of 450.

In her turn, Yulia Tymoshenko is much better prepared for delivering her draft of the Constitution. The amendments to the Constitution still being processed, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc has already secured the support of its eternal rival – Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

“A wide spectrum of political forces are working out the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc project. She can reckon with the support of the Party of Regions, the Communist Party, and, of course, her own bloc. And maybe, a large part of the Our Ukraine,” Alexey Sitnikov, Russian spin-doctor providing consulting services to Ms Tymoshenko, told Kommersant.

Member of the Party of Regions, Yelena Lukash partly confirmed the fact that Viktor Yanukovych’s adherents are eager to forget the past squabbles and play up to Ms Tymoshenko, “At the Saturday party congress we unequivocally supported the parliamentary-presidential form of government.”

So, account taken of Friday’s verdict of the Constitutional Court, the draft of the Constitution by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc is bound for success when it comes to the voting in the Rada, since, taken together, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Party of Regions have 331 votes in the Rada.

That’s why Yulia Tymoshenko may consider herself the winner, ”I’m sure that after the Easter holidays the Parliament will convene and pass the amendments to the Constitution, which the country needs more than any other sort of reform.”

Still, Viktor Yushchenko can frustrate his rival. Just like a year ago, he can dissolve the Rada and announce early elections, explaining his step with the evasive wording: “The activity of the lawmakers no more complies with the spirit of the Constitution.”

Source: Kommersant