By repealing the 2004 constitutional amendments on Oct. 1, the Constitutional Court
reinstated the semi-presidential system of government provided by Ukraine’s original Constitution in 1996. This strengthens the president vis-a-vis parliament, and has prompted the opposition to talk of a "dictatorship" being installed.
The 1996 Constitution allowed the president to pick the prime minister and cabinet ministers, but had shorter parliamentary terms of only four years, compared to five years under the amendments introduced in 2004, and now repealed.
Under the 1996 Constitution, which has again entered into force as of Oct. 1, 2010, the president is elected for five years, nominates candidates for prime minister (for parliamentary ratification) and appoints cabinet ministers, has the right to dismiss government without parliamentary approval and can cancel any government resolution.
The parliament, on the other hand, is elected for four years, is not required to form a majority coalition, can dismiss the government by vote of no-confidence and can override presidential decrees by two-thirds parliamentary majority, or 300 votes.
“The Constitutional Court decision means the constitution of 1996 has entered into force with immediate effect and we are already living in a presidential republic,” said Ihor Kolyushko, former presidential aide to ex-president Viktor Yushchenko. “This was their goal [of the presidential administration] and they seem to have achieved it.”
According to Kolyushko, the constitutional court decision implies elections already in 2011. “According to the 1996 constitution, which is now again in force, parliament is elected for four years, meaning there should be elections in March 2011.”
"I don't know what Yanukovych must do before a Ukraine without Yanukovych campaign starts up. I think he's already done a million things more than necessary for the beginning of such movement."
- Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko
However, in an interview with weekly newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli, justice minister Oleksandr Lavrinovich said there would be no parliamentary elections in 2011. "The powers of the current parliament are determined by the constitution that was in effect at the time of its election." Lavrinovich said, according to the newspaper's website. "Consequently the next parliament elections should take place on the last Sunday of the last month of the fifth year of the Verkhova Rada's term."
"But on October 31, the deputies elected to the local councils will serve a four-year period," Lavrinovich added.
Lavrinovich also said that his ministry has already prepared a new law 'On the Cabinet of Ministers' which would be introduced to the Verkhovna Rada October 1. The new law would incorporate all the changes in the government's role and powers implied by the return to the 1996 constitution. He told Zerkalo Nedeli that the new law would change the procedure of bringing motion of no-confidence against the government, the procedure for appointing and firing ministers, including the prime minister, the number of deputy prime ministers, which should decrease from six currently to four, according to the 1996 constitution.
"There must be and will be rule of law in Ukraine. This is most important principle of democracy. Any decision of a court, especially the Constitutional Court, must be obeyed by the president, Cabinet of Ministers and the Parliament."
- President Viktor Yanukovych
Opponents of the shift back to the 1996 constitution say it will strengthen authoritarian tendencies already evident in the new presidential administration of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Supporters blame the 2004 amendments for creating the political turmoil that plagued leaders after the 2004 Orange Revolution by failing to define clear grants of authority within the executive branch of government.
Yanukovych, commenting on the Constitutional Court decision at a conference in Yalta, said "[t]here must be and will be rule of law in Ukraine. This is most important principle of democracy. Any decision of a court, especially the Constitutional Court, must be obeyed by the president, Cabinet of Ministers and the Parliament."
Former prime minister, now an opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, called for immediate new parliamentary and presidential elections. She called the move a "usurpation of state power" and said that October 1 would go down in Ukrainian history as the day democracy was murdered and a dictatorship installed.
Some constitutional experts are disputing the legitimacy of the court decision. “The court does not have the right to rule on provisions that are part of the constitution being unconstitutional,” said Party of Regions MP Serhiy Holovaty, a former minister of justice. “The current parliament and president were elected on the basis of the amended constitution, and so the amendments regarding the parliament should remain in effect until the next parliamentary elections due in 2012.”