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The Constitutional Origins of the Crisis

Maryana Prokop, a political scientist specialising in the Ukrainian political system, explains how Ukraine’s Constitution has contributed to the nation’s political crisis.

January 29, 2014 - Maryana Prokop - Articles and Commentary

29.01.2014 verkhovna rada

Photo: Jurij Skoblenko aka Olduser (CC) commons.wikimedia.org

On January 28th 2014, the Ukrainian government, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, resigned. The opinions of the experts regarding the situation are divided. On the one hand, the resignation of the prime minister and government as well as the passing of the controversial bill of January 16th 2014 is to a certain degree a success resulting from the compromise talks between the opposition and Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych. At the same time, it is worth asking if this compromise will cause significant changes on the Ukrainian political scene and will lead to the resolution of the crisis in the country that has lasted two months. Will the swearing in of a new government solve the social problem of dissatisfaction with the policies of the Ukrainian government? How can we be sure that the new government will not be composed of more representatives and allies of the Party of Regions?

Simultaneously, an important matter appears to be that the function of the head of state is still performed by Viktor Yanukovych, who has origins in the Party of Regions, because the Ukrainian Constitution of 1996 (Chapter V: The President) gave the nation’s president a wide range of competencies. It should be emphasised that as a result of the events of the Orange Revolution and of the agreements at the round table in 2004 the Constitution was amended, which influenced the functioning of state institutions. There was an increase of the Parliament and government’s competences at the cost of the head of state’s powers. This positively influenced the strengthening of the executive and legislative branches, but on the other hand, in the hands of the president there remained many means of influencing the majority coalition and the government as well as the possibility of dissolving the Ukrainian Parliament (which took place in 2007 when Viktor Yushchenko did just that). According to the 2004 amendments, the president lost the right to exercise significant influence on the government in the form of appointing and recalling the head of government and ministers, as well as creating and liquidating ministries. The prerogative of appointing the government went to the parliamentary majority.

Meanwhile, on September 30th 2010 the Constitutional Court of Ukraine decreed that the 2004 amendments to the Basic Law are unconstitutional and repealed it, returning the Ukrainian system to the state before 2004 (Рішення Конституційного Суду № 20-рп/2010 від 30.09.2010, http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/v020p710-10,). At the same time, the president once more gained the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister with the agreement of the Parliament, and to undertake decisions about ceasing the existence of legal acts given by the government. Additionally, the Basic Law of 1996 gave the president the competences of command of the armed forces, directing matters related to security and national defence, declaring a state of emergency, the right to legislative initiative and the right to veto bills passed by the Parliament, etc.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the president possesses a very strong position in the Ukrainian political system and to maintain the rule of tripartite government there is a need for a constitutional majority in the composition of Parliament as to it belongs the right to apply the procedure of impeachment of the president, which in the Ukrainian reality is easy to undertake. This is why the dissolution of the Azarov government should not be judged hastily in the context of the spectacular political changes in Ukraine, as the primary and strongest actor on the Ukrainian political scene is still in play.

Maryana Prokop is a Ukrainian-born PhD student at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland, specialising in the Ukrainian political system.

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