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END NOTE: WILL KUCHMA'S CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM OUTWIT THE OPPOSITION? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW DEFENSE MINISTER. President Leonid Kuchma appointed Yevhen Marchuk as the country's new defense minister on 25 June, following the resignation of Volodymyr Shkidchenko last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003), Ukrainian news agencies reported. Marchuk was head of the Ukrainian Security Service in 1991-94 and prime minister in 1995-96. Marchuk ran in the 1999 presidential election and threw his support behind Kuchma after losing in the first round. Kuchma offered him the post of secretary of the National Security and Defense Council in return, where Marchuk remained until his current assignment. Kuchma has reportedly instructed Marchuk to create a "truly civilian" Defense Ministry, reduce the numerical strength of the armed forces, "restructure the military and its command bodies, [and] eliminate the disproportion between the existing numbers of junior and senior officers." JM

POLAND'S SILESIANS WANT RECOGNITION IN LAW ON ETHNIC MINORITIES. The Silesian Autonomy Movement (RAS) and the Social-Cultural Association of Germans want the Polish parliament to pass a law on ethnic minorities that would officially recognize the existence of an ethnic group of Silesians in Poland, PAP reported on 25 June, quoting representatives of both organizations at a news conference in Katowice. The organizations recalled that more than 170,000 people declared Silesian ethnicity in the national census in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 June 2003). "We are convinced that respect for the citizens of the Polish Republic who declared such ethnicity warrants giving them the status of an [ethnic] minority," RAS leader Jerzy Gorzelik said. According to both organizations, many representatives of Poland's minorities were afraid to declare their true ethnic origin in the 2002 census. "This is corroborated by the numbers of declarations of Belarusian and Ukrainian ethnicity that are at significant variance with what was expected," Gorzelik said. "Such apprehensions bear witness to a bad social climate and to the fact that non-Polish communities perceive the lack of acceptance of [ethnic] diversity and distinction." JM

...WITH UKRAINIAN GUEST'S PARTICIPATION... The 25 June meeting was also attended also by Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych, TASR and CTK reported. Dzurinda said Yanukovych's presence does not indicate that the Visegrad Four intend to transform Ukraine into an associate member of the group. It was rather aimed at signaling that Ukraine "is not only a neighbor of Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, but also of the EU. We wish Ukraine success, but it is only Ukrainians who will decide whether the country will meet conditions to set out on the road to the EU," Dzurinda said. Dzurinda and Yanukovych agreed to set up a joint team of experts to minimize the political and economic impact on Ukraine of Slovakia's expected EU membership. MS


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma submitted a modified version of his constitutional-reform bill to the Verkhovna Rada on 20 June, as he had promised in a televised address to the country the previous day. Kuchma told Ukrainians that, guided by the public discussion of the draft and by his desire to find a compromise with Ukrainian political forces, he had decided to scrap some of his earlier proposals. Opposition activists claim, however, that in pursuing the constitutional reform, Kuchma is still seeking to prolong his term in power beyond 2004.

Kuchma withdrew his previous suggestions to introduce a bicameral legislature, reduce the number of deputies, and apply the results of national referendums directly, without seeking other approval. "It is these three contentious points that have spurred the most heated discussion between the president and his opponents," Kuchma said on television. "But we have no right to continue to engage in a tug of war to mark time, which is why I have removed these barriers."

Like the earlier version, Kuchma's latest proposal still urges that the prime minister be appointed by parliament after his candidacy has been proposed by a "permanently functioning parliamentary majority" and submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by the president. The Verkhovna Rada should also appoint all ministers except for the foreign minister, the defense minister, and the interior minister, who are to be appointed by the president. Under Kuchma's constitutional-reform bill, the president would also have the right to appoint the heads of the Security Service, the State Customs Committee, the State Tax Administration, and the State Border Committee.

The new bill stipulates that the president has the right to disband parliament if it fails to create a permanent majority within one month, if a new cabinet has not been approved within 60 days after the resignation of the preceding government, or if parliament fails to approve the national budget for the next year by 1 December.

The new bill also retains Kuchma's previous proposal that the president, parliamentarians, and local lawmakers be elected to five-year terms in elections held in the same calendar year. "Ukraine needs a stable electoral cycle, because one cannot regard as normal a practice in which society only passes from one electoral campaign to another, while politicians literally never leave the electoral barricades," Kuchma said. "I believe that elections should be held once in five years. This is quite enough.... I have repeatedly stressed and I want to stress it again: The next presidential election should be held in 2004."

Kuchma did not, however, tell viewers how he envisages switching to this new electoral cycle. But Ukrainian print media highlighted a provision in the bill that states the Verkhovna Rada must approve a date for the first such election within two months of the constitutional reforms' adoption. According to some Ukrainian observers, the provision is a clear indication that Kuchma is seeking to outwit the opposition and prolong his term in power beyond 2004. While constitutional amendments require 300 votes for passage, the approval of a bill setting the date for the next presidential elections (as well as for parliamentary and local ballots) would require just 226 votes -- well within the reach of the pro-Kuchma parliamentary majority. And this date, Kuchma's opponents argue, could be set for 2005, 2006, or even 2007.

The Socialist Party has launched a signature drive among lawmakers on a petition requesting the Constitutional Court to rule on whether Kuchma may run for a third presidential term. Meanwhile, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine has called on lawmakers to introduce a moratorium on constitutional amendments until 2006, when a regular parliamentary election is to take place. It seems that Our Ukraine has finally decided that it is not going to take part in reforming the constitutional system as long as Kuchma is in power. Without Our Ukraine's participation in the process, it is unlikely that the pro-Kuchma forces in the parliament will be able to muster the 300 votes necessary to pass the Kuchma-submitted bill, especially as the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc are sponsoring a rival constitutional-reform bill.

The weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" in its 21-27 June issue commented sarcastically on Kuchma's recent constitutional-reform proposal, saying that the number of scenarios under which he could remain in power for more than two terms is constantly increasing. The weekly cited four such scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Constitutional Court rules that the Kuchma may run for a third term since he was elected in 1994 and 1999 under different constitutions. Ukraine promulgated its current constitution in 1996, when Kuchma was serving his first term. Thus, under the 1996 constitution, Kuchma is formally serving his first term.

Scenario 2: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma and the pro-presidential majority subsequently schedules the next presidential election well beyond 2004.

Scenario 3: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma, a new president is elected in 2004 for a transition period until 2006 or 2007, when the country is to enter the five-year electoral cycle. Kuchma does not participate in the 2004 election but chooses to run again in 2006 or 2007. The Ukrainian Constitution prohibits one person from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, but it does not restrict the total number of presidential terms an individual may serve.

Scenario 4: A new president and new parliament are elected in 2004. The parliament fails to form a permanent parliamentary majority or a cabinet or to approve a budget within the constitutionally prescribed term, and the president disbands it. This automatically means that a new election cycle is launched, and Kuchma obtains the possibility of running once again.

"It is simply amazing how it is possible for one to go hunting so many at the same time," "Zerkalo nedeli" wrote. "Will the 450 potential hunters [lawmakers] ever become tired of being game?"

A good question, indeed.