From Kuchma to Zelensky: How Ukrainian Presidents Rewrote the Constitution

From Kuchma to Zelensky: how Ukrainian presidents rewrote the Constitution

Today, the main law of the country – the Constitution of Ukraine – turns 26 years old. This year the holiday is overshadowed by a full-scale war.

During the war, the Constitution of Ukraine is under special protection. No changes can be made to it. Such a fuse was included in the country's Basic Law back in 1996 to prevent attacks on Ukraine's sovereignty and protect democracy.

Over the past 26 years, the Ukrainian Constitution has been repeatedly rewritten. And who knows what articles would have appeared in Law No. 1 if it had not been for the war.

KP in Ukraine remembered under which president – Kuchma, Yushchenko, Yanukovych or Poroshenko – the main law of the country was redrawn the most and what were the constitutional appetites of the team of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Kuchma wanted a bicameral parliament

For the first time, President Leonid Kuchma tried to correct the Constitution. To do this, in 2000, he initiated a nationwide referendum. Ukrainians were invited to the polls and asked for their opinion: how do they feel about the introduction of a bicameral parliament; reducing the deputies corps from 450 to 300 people, depriving deputies of immunity and granting the right to the president to dissolve parliament if he does not form a permanent majority within a month or approve the budget within three months. Citizens answered all four questions in the affirmative: yes, we support it. Moreover, the level of support went through the roof, about 90% “yes” on each issue. But these changes to the Constitution have not been made. At first, the Parliament hesitated to approve the results of the referendum, and then this issue was completely deactivated.

Towards the end of the second presidential term of Leonid Kuchma, the parliament voted for political reform – the form of government was changed in the Constitution. This became a condition for holding a “third” round of presidential elections. Ukraine has turned from a presidential-parliamentary republic into a parliamentary-presidential one. The powers of the president were limited, while the powers of the parliament and government were greatly expanded. After this reform, the president lost the right to form the government. He could only submit for consideration by the Verkhovna Rada the candidacies of the ministers of defense and foreign affairs, and the candidacy of the prime minister only at the suggestion of a coalition of parliamentary factions that make up the constitutional majority.

The amendments to the Constitution also provided for the extension of the powers of Parliament for one year, the cadence was increased from 4 to 5 years.

From Kuchma to Zelensky: how Ukrainian presidents rewrote the Constitution

The first edition of the Constitution of Ukraine with autographs of people's deputies. 1996 Photo: old.uinp.gov.ua

Yushchenko's failed attempts to reverse the reform

Under the third president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian Constitution was not rewritten. Although there have been attempts to revise certain provisions. In 2007, Yushchenko initiated the creation of a constitutional council to hold a referendum and cancel the 2004 political reform. The idea was not successful.

Yanukovych returned the 1996 Constitution

But President Viktor Yanukovych managed to regain his former powers at the constitutional level. In 2010 MPs from the Party of Regions petitioned the Constitutional Court to review the 2004 constitutional reform. And Themis turned out to be supportive of the blue and white political team. Judges of the Constitutional Court came to the conclusion that in 2004 the political reform was adopted in violation of the Basic Law, that is, it was unconstitutional. And this means that henceforth it is necessary to live according to the Constitution of 1996! Ukraine has returned to a presidential-parliamentary republic.

Two years later, in 2012, President Viktor Yanukovych created the Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution. There were many meetings and discussions, but the members of the Constitutional Assembly did not reach the final document.

Poroshenko headed for decentralization

In 2014, the Revolution of Dignity dictated new-old rules of political governance. The day before President Viktor Yanukovych's flight, parliament voted to restore Ukraine's 2004 constitution. Again, the parliament became the main political system of the country.

In the very first year of his presidency, Petro Poroshenko initiated changes to the Constitution regarding decentralization. The essence of the reform is that the regions should receive more powers and money. In the transitional provisions to the updated Basic Law, the scandalous clause was established “the features of local self-government in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions are regulated by a separate law.”

In 2016, the deputies rewrote the articles of the Constitution regarding justice. The innovations were supposed to “depoliticise, ensure the independence of the judiciary, and also reload the judiciary. The innovations returned to Ukraine a three-level system of courts: the first instance – local courts, the second – appeals, the third – cassation in the Supreme Court.

Established under Viktor Yanukovych, specialized courts – the Supreme Economic Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, the High Specialized Court for Criminal Cases – were abolished.

At the same time, two new courts were created – the High Specialized Court for Intellectual Property and the High Specialized Anti-Corruption Court, in which, by the way, even foreigners will be allowed to administer justice.

Parliament lost the right to appoint and dismiss judges. The head of state will also lose this right. Judges will be appointed by the president on the proposal of a new body, the High Council of Justice (HJC). These constitutional changes also affected the prosecutor's office, reducing its function to supporting the state prosecution in court. Ukrainians received the right to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court.

In 2018, at the initiative of the President, people's deputies enshrined in the Constitution Ukraine's course towards NATO and the EU. To do this, they detailed the preamble of the Basic Law and expanded the content of Article 102 of the Civil Code, which stated that the President became “the guarantor of the implementation of the state's strategic course to acquire full membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” Whether such changes should have been made is debatable. On the one hand, Ukraine once again showed the EU that it is striving to join the family of European countries, and on the other hand, such a decision did not bring Ukraine one step closer to obtaining the coveted membership. In most countries, the Constitution does not enshrine a policy of joining any blocs and unions.

Zelensky remembered Kuchma's initiatives

President Volodymyr Zelensky has already gone over the Constitution with scissors. People's deputies of the 9th convocation of the Verkhovna Rada voted in turbo mode for the presidential bill on the abolition of parliamentary immunity from January 1, 2020. To date, deputies are deprived of special immunity. And in order to detain, arrest and prosecute a parliamentarian, the prior consent of the Verkhovna Rada is not needed.

In February of this year, the Verkhovna Rada tentatively approved a bill to reduce the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada by a third (to 300 people's deputies) and consolidate the proportional electoral system.

Another constitutional proposal by Volodymyr Zelensky is to deprive a people's deputy of his mandate for absenteeism and non-personal voting. The president also tried to expand his powers at the constitutional level. On September 3 last year, the Verkhovna Rada sent a presidential bill to the Constitutional Court, which proposes to give the head of state the right to create regulatory bodies, appoint and dismiss the directors of NABU and the SBI. Also, a presidential bill was sent to the Constitutional Court, which proposes to grant the people the right to legislative initiative. And the court decided that such an initiative does not contradict the Basic Law of the country.

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How Ukraine adopted the Constitution in 1996

For three months, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., the draft Constitution was written by a specially created Temporary Commission. On the night of June 27-28, 1996, the deputies voted for each article of the Constitution separately.

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