Official Backs Constitutional Plebiscite

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s justice minister on Wednesday defended the idea that the government may amend the constitution through nationwide referendum, a controversial stance that may spark fresh protests from opposition groups.

Oleksandr Lavrynovych

Oleksandr Lavrynovych also defied pressure from European politicians insisting that Ukrainian parties must cooperate on any plans for amending the constitution to avoid escalation and standoff.

The comments raise concerns that President Viktor Yanukovych may resort to changing the constitution ahead of the next presidential election due in March 2015 to make it easier for him to win it.

Although no plans have been officially announced, the opposition groups suspect that Yanukovych may seek to amend the constitution to allow election of the next president in Parliament, scrapping a popular vote.

Other potential changes may include election of the next president in a one-round vote that could potentially benefit Yanukovych, analysts said.

The issue was recently discussed between Ukrainian and European experts in Luxembourg, when Lavrynovych said Ukraine has the right for the rule because at least two European Union countries amended their constitutions via referendums.

“At least two European Union countries made just that,” Lavrynovych said at a press conference.

“So, the question of whether to have this rule or not lies not with legal aspects, but with political strategy.”

Lavrynovych said that in order to be solved, the issue must be discussed at a “high political level, not at the level of experts.”

Yanukovych last year signed into law a legislation that regulates the use of referendums in Ukraine and that opens way for potentially amending the constitution.

The issue is highly sensitive as current legislation calls for any amendments to be approved by Parliament only and the approval requires 300 votes in the 450-seat legislature.

The current legislation makes it very hard to approve the amendments in Parliament as opposition groups can easily block such an approval.

Even among Yanukovych’s political allies there is an opposition to the plan. 

Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Rybak said in December that Ukraine should not try to approve constitutional amendments at a referendum and should rather do this by adopting amendments in Parliament.

Source: Ukrainian Journal