Inside Ukraine Newsletter, Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, April 9, 2004
KYIV - At the end of lengthy floor debate and back room maneuvering, the
Verkhovna Rada Thursday voted Thursday on a constitutional reform package,
but the measure drew only 294 yeas, six votes short of a constitutional
majority. The vote left opponents of the measure elated and proponents with
no clear picture of what next step, if any, may be available.
The entire plenary session of the Rada was devoted to a heated debate on the
measure that had already passed the Rada by a simple majority, was later
cleared by the Constitutional Court, and required only a vote of 300
deputies to become a part of the constitution.
The Rada's discussion early in the day transformed into a heated and
protracted debate between the two extremes on the bill, i.e. former Prime
Minister Viktor Yushchenko's 'Our Ukraine' bloc and the Yulia Tymoshenko
bloc on one side and the Communists on the other.
Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko speaks during a
parliamentary session in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, April 8, 2004
However, as the debate raged on, it was clear that the 20-member Socialist
faction headed by Oleksandr Moroz held the deciding vote margin. For his
part, Moroz insisted that the Socialists would only support the measure if
an amended version were voted.
A 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. lunch break in the Rada session was used to hold an
all-factions meeting to attempt to broker an acceptable compromise. Finally,
an agreement was reached on supplementing the court-approved version of
the bill with a specific provision meeting the demands of Moroz that the
constitutional reforms, if approved, would come into effect only after the
2004 presidential elections.
When the final vote showed that the bill had come up short of the required
constitutional majority, the parliament hall was a scene of opposition
jubilation. However, many observers are questioning the real motives of
President Leonid Kuchma, since some of his closest political associates,
including Oleksandr Volkov and both Leonid and Andriy Derkach, did not
cast any vote, yea or nay, on the measure that was theoretically a major
Also, in formal terms the bill on the constitutional amendments, registered
as Rada document #4501, was not voted on. Instead a version slightly altered
to meet the demands of Moroz was the one actually voted. Thus, some of the
more radical proponents of the constitutional reforms are claiming that it
may be possible to bring the original version up for another vote. Of
course, that would again raise the Moroz issue, since the original version
does not carry the amendment Moroz continues to demand.
Some skeptical observers believe that the Thursday vote may have been a
well-planned ruse that would now allow Kuchma to use the failed reforms as
a pretext to a run for a third presidential term, something he had
vociferously disavowed prior to Thursday's vote.
At the end of Thursday's session, there appeared to be a consensus that the
constitutional reforms are probably dead, at least for the near-term future.
However, just which names may appear on this year's presidential ballot,
especially from the pro-presidential forces, seems considerably less certain.