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END NOTE: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS NEW POLITICAL-REFORM PLAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
CONSORTIUM PONDERS BUILDING NEW GAS PIPELINE ACROSS UKRAINE. The international consortium for developing and managing Ukraine's gas transportation system, which was registered in Kyiv by Ukraine's Naftohaz and Russia's Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003), is planning to build a new gas pipeline linking Novopskov in Luhansk Oblast with Uzhhorod in Transcarpathia, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. That plan was discussed at a meeting in Kyiv of the consortium's leadership the same day. The meeting was attended by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, Gazprom deputy heads Aleksander Ryazanov and Yurii Komarov, Ukrainian Deputy Premier Vitaliy Hayduk, and Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Yuriy Boyko. Khristenko told journalists that the new, 1,500-kilometer pipeline will be built within two years and will cost $2 billion-$2.5 billion. The pipeline is expected to increase gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine from the current 110 billion cubic meters to 131 billion cubic meters. JM
KYIV WILL NOT COORDINATE WTO ENTRY WITH MOSCOW. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said in Kyiv on 26 August that Ukraine will not coordinate its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) with Russia, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. "This issue has been removed from the agenda," Zlenko noted. He said Ukraine's affiliation to the common economic space of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, will not hamper talks on Ukraine's admission to the WTO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Zlenko said the common economic space idea is "in evolution," adding that the four involved states are no longer considering a common currency or a common customs union. JM
POLISH POLICE DETAIN UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR FOR DRUNK DRIVING. Police in Warsaw have detained Ukraine's ambassador to Poland, Oleksandr Nykonenko, for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol, Polish Radio reported on 26 August. Chief Commander of the Police Antoni Kowalczyk said he has passed the case on to the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. "This is outside my competence," Kowalczyk noted. "They [the ministries] will take further steps." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS NEW POLITICAL-REFORM PLAN
Speaking to the country on 23 August, the eve of Ukraine's Independence Day, President Leonid Kuchma said he is ready to support a new constitutional-reform plan that was agreed upon with the opposition during consultations earlier this month. "Despite certain drawbacks, I believe this draft law has to be approved by the Verkhovna Rada, as I think it will almost certainly be supported by a constitutional majority [300 votes in the 450-seat legislature]." The previous day, Ukrainian media reported that Kuchma withdrew the political-reform bill that he submitted to parliament in June.
Kuchma did not divulge any details regarding the new plan for overhauling Ukraine's constitutional system. He only asserted that "a parliamentary-presidential form of rule is best suited to the political psychology and the political archetype of our people." And he noted that future presidents should "guarantee civil rights and represent the state in the international arena." But some details were supplied last week by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, who reportedly held several meetings with presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk in August to discuss the new political-reform draft.
Moroz said the new plan envisages that parliament confirm the prime minister and all cabinet ministers. The prime minister will nominate all cabinet members, except for the defense minister and the foreign minister, both of whom are to be nominated by the president. The president is to appoint the prosecutor-general, who must subsequently be approved by the Verkhovna Rada. The president and the parliament are to appoint the Constitutional Court and the National Council for Broadcasting on a parity basis. The president is to have the right to veto parliamentary bills.
Moroz also divulged that a key innovation is the presidential administration's proposal that the Verkhovna Rada elect the president. He added, however, that he opposes this scheme and favors a direct, popular presidential ballot. Meanwhile, Symonenko said the Communists want the current election law to apply to the 2004 presidential election, but are in favor of reducing the president's mandate from five years to two. Symonenko added that a new parliament, if elected under a fully proportional system, could elect a new president for a full term in 2006.
Also important, the new constitutional-reform draft reportedly drops Kuchma's previous proposal that presidential, parliamentary, and local elections be held in the same year. This proposal was widely seen by the opposition and political analysts as a legalistic ruse intended to prolong Kuchma's term in power by two or three years.
The new plan seemingly does not provide for any political role for Kuchma after the end of his second presidential term in November 2004. But some Ukrainian analysts suggest that if Kuchma rejects the future of a political pensioner, he could try to seek the post of prime minister, whom the new plan makes the central political figure in the country. And some speculate that he might even seek the post of president in 2006, following a two-year break. The Ukrainian Constitution in its current wording prohibits anyone from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, but it does not restrict the total number of possible presidential terms.
It is apparent that the new political-reform plan -- at least in the intention of the presidential administration -- aims at preventing Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, the country's most popular politician, from becoming president in 2004. Jointly, the pro-presidential majority, the Socialists, and the Communists can muster the 300 votes required to push the reform through parliament. If the Verkhovna Rada approves the plan with the stipulation that the president be elected by parliament, Yushchenko seems to have no chance of being elected. On the other hand, if the "Symonenko option" -- electing the president in a direct ballot in 2004 for two years -- prevails, Yushchenko might become an "interim" president, but with essentially curtailed prerogatives compared with those Kuchma currently enjoys.
Even if this new plan eventually collapses, as have several previous attempts by Kuchma to revamp the constitutional system, its launching nonetheless seems to be a political masterstroke on the part of the authorities. Some Ukrainian commentators suggest that Medvedchuk is the originator of this plan and the main driving force behind it.
The plan placed Medvedchuk in the same "working team" with Moroz and Symonenko, both of whom not so long ago were involved in a fierce campaign intended to oust Kuchma. The presidential administration seems to have managed to drive a significant wedge between Yushchenko, on one side, and Moroz and Symonenko, on the other, thus creating additional obstacles to any future alliance of these three.
Also, the unexpected alliance of the pro-presidential centrists with the not-so-long-ago antipresidential leftists creates brighter prospects for Kuchma himself to avoid political and/or legal responsibility for his deeds after the end of his political career.
Finally, the plan seems to play into the hands of Medvedchuk, who stands no real chance of being elected president either by direct ballot of by parliament, but might well apply after the end of Kuchma's tenure for other important political jobs -- for instance, as leader of a parliamentary majority or as parliament speaker.
No doubt, this new plan also presents a serious dilemma for Yushchenko about what to do now. Yushchenko said last week that a presidential model of government for today's Ukraine is more efficient that a parliamentary-presidential one. This is no surprise, given his presidential ambitions. The real problem, however, is whether he will now be able to convince other important political players that he is right. One such player is Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych who, according to Ukrainian observers, harbors strong presidential ambitions and, therefore, is not likely to seek the post of a figurehead in 2004.
On top of everything else, Kuchma's latest constitutional-reform proposal is set to dominate the political agenda in Ukraine after the summer vacation, involving both the pro-presidential and opposition forces in the Verkhovna Rada in a what is likely to be a fierce battle over the redistribution of political power. "Almost half of [Ukraine's] GDP is produced in the shadows," Kuchma lamented in his Independence Day speech last week. But his political-reform plan will hardly contribute to improving this lamentable situation. As many times in the past, during the upcoming political season the problem of socioeconomic power in Ukraine will almost certainly be left in the shadows.