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16 Shades of Orange in Ukraine
What events, issues, or other factors will shape the outcome of the Ukrainian
What opportunities does the United States have to influence the outcome?
What are the implications of the election for US interests in the region?
On 18 March 2004, analysts in Washington, D.C., awoke to the news that Ukrainian politics had
moved in two contrasting directions. The Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, voted that day to establish 31
October 2004 as the date for the country’s presidential election, setting the stage for a historic transfer
of power through the ballot box.1 A few blocks away at the Constitutional Court, however, justices
took an important step toward emasculating that transfer by validating President Leonid Kuchma’s
constitutional reform bill aimed at shifting the power to appoint Ukraine’s government from the
president to the legislature (see Box 16.1; Figure 16.1). Ukraine’s opposition cried foul, accusing the
unpopular Kuchma and his allies of scheming to retain power even if they were unable to win
reelection. Presidential hopeful Viktor Yushchenko reacted to the court’s ruling by announcing that his
opposition bloc would use “all available means,” including “taking people to the street and blocking
the parliamentary rostrum,” to prevent adoption of the constitutional reform bill.2
Box 16.1 KUCHMA’S PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES
Constitutional reform had been a priority issue for President Leonid Kuchma since his election
in 1994. He succeeded in winning approval of a new constitution in 1996—Ukraine’s first since
the 1978 model that governed the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic—which tilted the balance
of power from the legislature to the presidency, and for several years thereafter he continued to
press for amendments that would further enhance presidential powers at the expense of the
Rada. As Kuchma’s popularity declined, however, he became intent on reversing that course,
and in March 2003 he proposed a series of amendments that would transform Ukraine into what
was termed a European-style “parliamentary-presidential state,” with several powers
transferring from the executive to the Rada.
The prime minister and most government ministers would be appointed by the
parliament and not by the president.
The legislature’s term of office would be extended to five years, and its elections would
be held simultaneously with presidential elections.
The unicameral 450-seat Rada would be replaced by a bicameral parliament with a 300-
seat lower chamber and an upper chamber consisting of three representatives from each
of Ukraine’s twenty-seven regions.
All seats in the lower chamber would be elected from party lists, as opposed to half from
party lists and half from single-seat constituencies.
The president would be elected by popular ballot in October 2004, but as of 2006 would
be elected by a vote in the legislature.i
These provisions were slightly modified during the course of the next year, and the version
ruled constitutional by the court in March 2004 provided for the prime minister to appoint most
government ministers, subject to legislative approval, and for continued popular election of the
i. Oleg Varfolomeyev, “Kuchma’s Reform Draft: A Trap for the Opposition?” Russia Eurasia Review 2, no. 7
ii. Jan Maksymiuk, “Ukraine Faces Radical Changes in Its Constitutional System,” Ukraine Weekly, January 11,
Figure 16.1 The Rada and the Constitutional Court Split, 18 March 2004
The Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, votes to establish 31 October 2004 as the date for the
country’s presidential election, setting the stage for a historic transfer of power through the
ballot box. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court takes an important step toward emasculating
that transfer by approving President Leonid Kuchma’s constitutional reform bill, which is
aimed at shifting the power to appoint Ukraine’s government from the president to the
In Washington, D.C., US policy makers wondered about the implications of these dual
developments. The US relationship with Ukraine (see Map 16.1) was arguably at its lowest point since
Ukrainian independence in 1991. A series of shocking revelations about Kuchma’s
administration—including tape recordings that pointed to Kuchma’s involvement…
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