BRAMA, September 25, 2009, 9:00 AM ET|
Why does Ukraine need constitutional reform?
By Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine
Ukraine is currently in an extremely difficult political and economic situation, which poses a threat to its stability and is fraught with the loss of sovereignty. The economic difficulties, instability and other crisis phenomena primarily result from our political elite's inability to run this country, to respond to external challenges in a swift and adequate manner, to reach a consensus on the fundamental principles of the state's development and to bear responsibility for the results of their activities. Such stability and responsibility should be based on adherence to democratic principles and procedures in everyday political life.
Economic consequences of the political crisis
A thorough analysis of the current situation has produced a disappointing conclusion: in order to find a way out of the crisis and to avert similar crises in the future, Ukraine should first solve its internal political problems, which are the root of evil and the cause of the present woes.
For example, at the beginning of this year, under pressure from neighbouring countries, the Ukrainian government showed a selective approach to the defence of Ukrainian interests during the signing of the gas accords, which jeopardize our energy security. In this context, proper management of our strategic assets in this area is increasingly becoming a matter of utmost importance for the whole European community. Such vital issues as the need to improve relations with the European Union and other foreign partners of Ukraine also require solutions.
The worsening of the domestic political situation amid a global economic and financial crisis has caused GDP to shrink by 22 per cent, also bringing about rising inflation, an unstable rate of the national currency and higher debt to foreign creditors.
Even though Ukraine has managed to avoid economic collapse thanks to international assistance, we are still hanging in limbo.
Public demand for a revamped mechanism of power
Constitutional reform is the key and only way of forming responsible and effective authorities. Society has long developed an acute need for reform of the Fundamental Law (constitution), which would eliminate the inconsistencies brought into the constitutional realm by the ill-conceived and hasty changes made to the constitution before the presidential election in 2004.
As a result, we had the scene set for harsh social and political conflicts and instability in institutions of power. The present constitution as a product of political compromise has resulted in a widening gap between the authorities and the people and has begun to serve the interests of the elites instead of meeting public needs and aspirations. We need a viable constitution of freedoms, which would effectively safeguard human and civil rights and liberties.
In this context, I see my task as head of state in making irreversible at the constitutional level the democratic changes that have drastically transformed Ukraine after the Orange Revolution of 2004. I am convinced that a revised constitution must become the Fundamental Law of a free, just and protected society, which is governed by law and democracy.
My stance is consistent and unchanged: the amendments to the constitution should not be tailor-made for specific personalities or political forces. They should be based on society's political and legal need for changing the existing system of power.
Main principles of a new constitution of Ukraine
As president of Ukraine, I will work to meet the public demand for a revamp of the system of power via direct dialogue with the citizens, who are the only source of state power. I have recently signed a decree on a nationwide discussion of the text of the new constitution that was submitted to parliament early this year. The numerous unsuccessful attempts to achieve unity among parliamentary factions and bodies of power only highlighted the need for such public examination to be launched. This is precisely why I proposed that not only lawmakers but also all Ukrainian people be involved in a joint discussion on the subject. I also invite other experts and interested European organizations to comment on the draft new constitution, which has recently received a positive assessment from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The draft is based on international and national constitutional experience and is guided by universally recognized European standards and the requirements of international agreements in the field of human rights.
The key provisions of the revised constitution are about creating an effective system of checks and balances in the state mechanism, widening the political rights of Ukrainian citizens and boosting their ability to directly influence state decision-making. In particular, one novelty in Ukrainian constitutionalism is the introduction of the right of the people's legislative initiative. This right is provided for by the constitutions of a whole number of European states, such as Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, etc., and it is in place in 22 states of the USA, 20 constituent parts of the Russian Federation and a range of states in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Under the new Fundamental Law, the political regime must hinge on free political competition and respect for democratic values.
A provision of principle is the stipulation of the Ukrainian state's international position as an inalienable part of the European community.
The new constitution should become a foundation for a free, just and affluent Ukrainian society and should be based on such principles and premises as:
- democratic distribution of powers, duties and responsibilities among all branches of power;
- direct election of leaders, who are accountable to citizens;
- ensuring that parties are accountable to voters by introducing open election lists;
- lifting MP immunity from prosecution;
- introducing a bicameral parliament where both national and local interests will be equally represented by means of strengthening representative democracy, and where legislative activities will attain new quality;
- re-orientating law-enforcement bodies towards protecting human rights and state laws by ridding pre-trial investigation of its incriminatory bias. Under the new constitution, everyone will be entitled to protect their interests and contest anti-constitutional laws in the Constitutional Court.
And finally, this has to be a constitution that has been developed, approved and agreed by the people through an open and transparent discussion, which is a fundamental principle of democracy.
The new constitution is a safeguard of Ukrainian statehood's development
Society's current need for a revamped mechanism of power creates high expectations for an active, broad and public discussion on the main provisions of the draft amendments to the constitution and for constructive proposals, which will be collected and considered. The reworked and finalized text will take account of the proposals made during the nationwide public discussion.
I am convinced that the Ukrainian people are capable of creating a law that would be fully in line with the national interests of Ukraine rather than the interests of individual politicians. There is a great tradition behind us. The Ukrainian constitution of the 18th century by Pylyp Orlyk was one of the first democratic laws in the world.
It is only the new constitution that will enable Ukraine to develop as a strong, democratic state guided by the people's interests. It will consolidate the democratic achievements of recent years and will make it impossible for our state to slide back into its totalitarian past. Ukraine's response to modern challenges is strengthening democracy as a safeguard of our great public and economic development. I strongly believe that Ukraine as a state has promise and prospect of existence in the context of democratic development only.
President Viktor Yushchenko was in New York City this week to attend the opening of the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly. He visited The Ukrainian Museum on Tuesday, September 22, 2009 where he met with community leaders. View the slideshow on Brama.
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