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END NOTE: KUCHMA SHUFFLES CARDS FOR 2004 PRESIDENTIAL-ELECTION GAME xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

FAMILIES OF MISSING BELARUSIAN POLITICIANS TO APPEAL TO KGB. The families and relatives of missing Belarusian opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski have prepared an appeal to the State Security Committee (KGB) requesting that it open criminal investigations into those disappearances, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 January. Investigations conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office have yielded no apparent results. "The Prosecutor-General's Office does not want and cannot investigate [the disappearances], because the main suspect is the prosecutor-general himself [Viktar Sheyman]," Iryna Krasouskaya, the wife of Anatol Krasouski, told RFE/RL. Some have suggested that Viktor Sheyman and other high-ranking government officials might have been behind the organization of a purported death squad that killed Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski in 1999, as well as journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June and 28 August 2001). JM

PACE MONITOR WARNS UKRAINE OVER CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. Hanne Severinsen, a member of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told journalists in Kyiv on 20 January that current attempts by the pro-presidential parliamentary majority to change the constitution in the presidential election year are not "acceptable," Ukrainian news agencies reported. Severinsen appealed to the parliamentary majority and the opposition to find a compromise, stressing that the constitutional-reform bill preliminarily approved on 24 December (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 January 2004) should be resubmitted to parliament and debated "paragraph by paragraph," rather than being pushed through by presidential allies. Severinsen and her colleague, Renate Wohlwand, met with a number of Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders in Kyiv to gather information about Ukraine's constitutional reform for a PACE meeting scheduled for February. JM


When Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma meets with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Kyiv later this week, they will surely discuss the upcoming major political events in their countries: presidential elections in Russia in March and in Ukraine in November. While in the case of Russia nobody doubts that Putin will be easily re-elected, it is anybody's guess what might happen in Ukraine. In fact, it is not even certain how the Ukrainian president will be elected -- by a universal ballot or by parliament. Both options, according to Ukrainian observers, are possible. It is also not certain who will be the main presidential contender from the party of power in Ukraine -- the incumbent president or someone selected by Kuchma to be his successor.

However, everybody seems to agree that the 2004 presidential ballot in Ukraine will be a momentous event that could define the country's geopolitical orientation for more than just one presidential term. It is because the Ukrainian party of power -- which traditionally opts for Ukraine staying within the "Eurasian fold" -- is being challenged for the first time by a politically potent, pro-Western alternative embodied by Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine bloc.

On 24 December, the Verkhovna Rada preliminarily approved with 276 votes a constitutional-reform plan known as the Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill (No. 4105). The bill stipulates a redistribution of prerogatives among the parliament, the president, and the government and provides for the election of the president in 2006 by the parliament. The bill was passed by a controversial show-of-hands vote, since opposition deputies from Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc broke the legislature's electronic voting system, primarily to protest the change in the method of electing the president.

To become a law, the bill must receive at least 300 votes during the parliamentary session that is expected to begin on 3 February. The opposition has called upon the Constitutional Court to invalidate the 24 December vote, arguing that voting by a show of hands is against parliamentary regulations. But in the general opinion of Ukrainian analysts, the court is unlikely to heed this call.

Moreover, on 30 December, the Constitutional Court ruled that President Kuchma, who was first elected president in July 1994 and then re-elected in November 1999, is formally serving his first full presidential term, since in 1996 the Verkhovna Rada promulgated a new constitution that redefined presidential prerogatives. Thus, according to the Constitutional Court, the constitutional provision limiting the presidential tenure to two consecutive terms for one person did not apply to Kuchma until his 1999 election, and he therefore may choose to seek another presidential term in 2004.

The ruling of the Constitutional Court is much more controversial than the tumultuous vote on constitutional amendments on 24 December 2003. U.S. Federal Judge Bohdan Futey, who served as an adviser to the Working Group on the Ukrainian Constitution adopted in 1996, concluded earlier this month that the ruling is unsupportable and logically inconsistent with a 1997 court ruling that said that parliamentarians elected after 8 June 1995 may not simultaneously hold a position in the government, since a the Constitutional Agreement banning that practice came into effect on that date.

Futey argued that if similar reasoning was applied by the Constitutional Court to Kuchma, he would not have been allowed to seek a third term. The applicable constitutional norms and prior legislation addressing presidential term limits, Futey noted, consistently limited the president to two terms both when Kuchma was elected in 1994 and when he was re-elected in 1999. "The court applied a 'different standard' to national deputies in 1997 than it is now applying to President Kuchma," Futey said in a commentary published by "Ukraine Report-2004" (

Critics of the ruling in Ukraine say that the court's decision actually allows a person to seek the presidency for an unlimited number of terms. To achieve this, they argue, it is enough for the parliament to amend the constitution in its part referring to presidential prerogatives, thus making the current presidential term "incomplete" and allowing the incumbent legitimately to seek another term, which may also be made "incomplete" by further constitutional amendments.

However, decisions of the Constitutional Court are final and not subject to appeal. Therefore, it is now up only to Kuchma -- who has stressed on several occasions that he will not run in 2004 -- to decide whether he will make yet another presidential bid. Likewise, he seems to be in control of the constitutional-reform drive in the parliament and could, at his discretion, stop it or give it an extra impetus. Kuchma, who returned last week from a month-long stay at a German spa, has not yet disclosed his plans regarding the 2004 presidential ballot and the constitutional reform. It is not unlikely that he wants to consult with Putin first.

Theoretically, several scenarios are possible. The Verkhovna Rada might pass bill No. 4105 just as it was preliminarily approved in December 2003. This would mean that Ukraine would hold a nationwide presidential election in 2004, but in 2006 a new president would be elected by a new legislature. However, the Verkhovna Rada might also choose to vote on the Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill "article by article" and drop its final part, which stipulates the election of an "interim president" in 2004 for some 18 months. Then, as many supporters of Our Ukraine fear, the Verkhovna Rada would be entitled to elect a new president in 2004, and Viktor Yushchenko -- who is currently supported by some 25 percent of Ukrainians and is the country's most-popular politician -- would stand no chance of being elected. A third possibility is that the Verkhovna Rada might fail to muster the 300 votes needed to amend the constitution, and everything would remain as it is now.

In each of these three scenarios, two "sub-scenarios" should be taken into account -- one with Kuchma running himself and another with Kuchma backing a successor. Some argue that Kuchma will not risk the West's ire, which would predictably follow if he chooses to seek a third term. Others say he might eventually decide on this, if the party of power fails to agree on an acceptable successor and play as one team in the election campaign.

"Politics in Russia has ended for a long time...[along with political journalism]," Interfax-Ukraine Editor in Chief Oleksandr Martynenko said in a recent press interview. "But we [in Ukraine] still have them [politics and political journalism]. We are living in interesting times." This might incidentally be true, even if a closer look at Ukrainian affairs reveals that real politics, as well as real political journalism, in Ukraine are practiced by very few. The others simply appear to respond to the strings pulled by these very few.