by Iryna Havrylova, Volodymyr Skachko and Oleksandr Yurchuk,
Kiyevskiy Telegraph, Kyiv
 
Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz has advocated political reform as a step towards a more democratic system of government. He criticized President Yushchenko for opposing amendments to the constitution that reduce the president's remit.

If Yushchenko had publicly approved the changes that came into force on 1 January 2006, parliament would not have dismissed the government, Moroz stated. Speaking about the Orange coalition, Moroz said that his party was not a member of any coalition in the presidential election but supported Viktor Yushchenko personally as a democratic candidate.

Yushchenko was a banner of the Orange Revolution rather than its leader, Moroz maintained. The following is an excerpt from the interview, published in the weekly Kiyevskiy Telegraf on 20 January, under the title "The ice age. Oleksandr Moroz: 'The president has no grounds for holding a referendum'"; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

The political "heat" is at its peak, yet Oleksandr Moroz is maintaining an enviable coolness. This is hard for the Socialist leader to do, though, since the attacks on his favourite brainchild - constitutional reform - are relentless. It came into force on 1 January 2006 and brought about the dismissal of the government, the political crisis and fierce political wrangling between parliament and the president.

It is twice as hard for Moroz, since the Socialists are allies of the head of state, and the best representatives of the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) hold senior posts in that very government that has been dismissed by Verkhovna Rada. Their status is still unclear.

This, however, does not faze Mr Moroz: he remains a supporter of Viktor Yushchenko and is his constitutional "mentor" - much to the dislike of some members of the president's inner circle. The Socialist leader thinks that the best way of "ironing out" the political crises at all levels - from the government crisis to the electoral one - is careful study of the basic law [i.e. the constitution].

Read the constitution, people say, and you will find prescriptions for all of life's ills. He himself has been successfully drawing on them for many years now and so is rightly regarded as one of the most intelligent and prudent Ukrainian politicians.

Will he manage to bring Viktor Yushchenko into that category? What will happen to the Cabinet of Ministers? Will the reform be abolished? Oleksandr Moroz has given Kiyevskiy Telegraf journalists some answers to these questions.

PRESIDENT HAS NO POLITICAL OR LEGAL GROUNDS FOR REFERENDUM ON REFORM
[Interviewer] Oleksandr Oleksandrovych, what do you think of the idea of revising the constitutional reform by means of a referendum? Some members of [Yushchenko's] Our Ukraine are proposing to combine a plebiscite with the parliamentary election.

[Moroz] Attempts are being made today to link all the fuss over reform with the sacking of the cabinet. The real problem boils down to one thing: the executive (and, apparently, the president too) are showing that they don't acknowledge the amendments to the constitution.

This attitude is concealed by various fig leaves, but their meaning is the same. I want to stress that the sacking has nothing to do with the constitutional amendments. The cabinet of [Prime Minister] Yuriy Yekhanurov was dismissed in keeping with the same sort of formula that was once used to fire the government of Viktor Yushchenko [on 26 April 2001].

As for forming a new cabinet, that's impossible given the present composition of parliament. When speaking in Verkhovna Rada, I warned that the government shouldn't be dismissed. Such a step is irrational and is harmful from the state policy point of view, since there are currently no mechanisms for forming the Cabinet of Ministers.

That can only be done by a parliamentary coalition, but, according to the constitution, a coalition can only be formed after the 2006 election.

Still, parliament took the decision, and that means the cabinet has been dismissed. However, it may continue its activities - indeed it must - since it is required to do so by the constitution. Moreover, the parliamentary resolution makes it clear that the present government must function until a new cabinet is formed after March 2006. Everyone is well aware that, in this way, Verkhovna Rada has simply made an appraisal of a number of cabinet officials.

As far as the referendum is concerned, I want to point out that the president has no political or legal grounds for holding it. The constitution stipulates clearly how a referendum may be carried out at the initiative of the head of state. Other options call for a complicated procedure, including the collection of 3m signatures from Ukrainian citizens.

On the basis of current legislation, it is impossible to hold a plebiscite at the same time as parliamentary elections. One further point: the Constitutional Court has already stated its opinion on the referendum. Admittedly, it did pass two diametrically opposed decisions on directly amending the basic law.

No country in the world has the practice of confirming constitutional amendments by plebiscite. If a referendum were to be held in full conformity with the constitution, its result would be approval or disapproval of the whole text of the basic law. Incidentally, such a practice exists in many countries, including Russia.

Not only does the president have no legal grounds for declaring an "anticonstitutional referendum"; he has no political grounds either. We've carried out public opinion polls and found out that there are virtually no forces in society that oppose a democratic parliamentary-presidential model of administration.

As Ostap Bender said, "The ice is on the move!" Most of the political parties and blocs taking part in the elections must react to the public's demands and act accordingly. So, if the president held a referendum today on "cancelling" constitutional reform, he would definitely lose it.

PRESENT CRISIS IS ARTIFICIAL AND CAN EASILY BE RESOLVED

[Interviewer] It has been proposed that a meeting should be held between the president, the prime minister and MPs to seek a solution to the political crisis. Do you think that such a measure would help to boost the level of understanding between the branches of power? Or would it be no more than a political ritual?

[Moroz] The crisis is an artificial one. It can easily be resolved. The president needs to go on television and say: "I acknowledge the amendments to the constitution, and, as its guarantor, I demand that all citizens and all institutions of power should observe the basic law."

It is perfectly obvious that there is a need for networking and for seeking ways towards engaging in a dialogue. When I was the Chairman of Verkhovna Rada [May 1994 to July 1998], I had a very difficult relationship with [the then president] Leonid Kuchma.

When the interests of parliament or the state were at issue, though, I would always be prepared for coordinated action by the legislature and the executive. The present crisis is linked with preparations for the elections - hence the "specific" positioning of certain political forces.

The government's mistakes are being used by the political parties and blocs to produce a contrast and claim: we're not like them, and in difficult crisis circumstances we're able to act more effectively.

In the present situation, the gas problem was chosen as the point of departure. Everyone has tried to play on the issue - from the political heavyweights to the marginal contenders, who are promising the people to lower the price of gas to virtually 20 dollars per 1,000 cu.m. if they win the parliamentary election.

This is despite the fact that specific agreements were reached between the two presidents [Viktor Yushchenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin] in Astana [on 11 January], and it would be shortsighted to count on their being reviewed.

WHAT WILL THE SOCIALIST DO?

[Interviewer] But, if Viktor Yushchenko signs a decree instituting a referendum, how will the SPU act in that eventuality?

[Moroz] The short answer is that the Socialists will act appropriately. I think that the main thing in the current situation is to prevent the president from taking any hasty, unconstitutional action. The president knows my position.

I shall use every opportunity I have to restrain Yushchenko from breaching the constitution, since I stick up for Ukraine's authority and for the authority of the institutions of power, including the presidency.

I disagree with many of Viktor Yushchenko's statements, which I regard as tactless and sometimes simply groundless. How can one say, for example, that the amendments to the constitution were adopted in a difficult political situation, almost on the verge of civil war?

We signed an agreement on this with Yushchenko back on 6 November 2005, when no threats were in the offing\ [ellipsis as published]. Apart from that, the other day, I was watching Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatyy telling the media about the "horrors" of the block voting on 8 December 2004.

The MPs were leaned on, and members pressed other people's [voting] buttons. But nothing of the sort actually happened! The block voting took place properly, all agreements were honoured and all MPs were in their seats.

One other thing: it's fashionable today to talk of the secrecy of political reform. That's not true either: society knew about the replacement of the power model two years before the event. Throughout that time, both the people and the political elite discussed the finer points of constitutional modernization. The process was largely formal, since people aren't interested in the constitution in a state that isn't governed by law, but that's a different matter.

[Interviewer] When the People's Strength coalition appeared, it was the SPU that came in for the accusation that the Socialists would be the first to back out of the agreements with the "orange" [pro-Yushchenko] coalition.

But what happened was the exact opposite: Yuliya Tymoshenko [the ex-prime minister and leader of the YTB, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which supported Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential elections] was the first to split away from the leader of the revolution. If the president does decide to hold a referendum, will the Socialists remain "true" to him?

[Moroz] We didn't join any coalition. We personally supported Viktor Yushchenko's candidature in the presidential election. In addition, Yushchenko isn't the leader of the Orange Revolution. He is its banner.

I regard the people of Ukraine, those who went to the Maydan [Kiev's Independence Square, the focal point of the Orange Revolution] for the sake of freedom and democracy, as being the leader and mover of the "orange" events.

The fact that the SPU did not take part in the vote to dismiss Yekhanurov's cabinet confirms yet again that we are a constructive political force, able to make objective evaluations. In our draft resolution, the cabinet came in for heavy criticism, especially as regards its handling of the gas problem, but the Socialists thought it illogical to dismiss the government.

NO NEW CONSTITUTION

[Interviewer] At the moment, many political forces - the YTB, the PDP [People's Democratic Party] and Our Ukraine - are competing to write new versions of the constitution, claiming that, instead of "rehashing" the old one, it would be better to pass a basic law "from scratch".

How do you see these initiatives? Are the Socialists going to join in the business of a wider editing of the constitution? Your draft 3207-1 was far more detailed in its first version\ [ellipsis as published]

[Moroz] All political forces and even individual citizens can talk about writing a new constitution. Who will adopt these amendments is a different matter. So I can assure you that there will be no new constitutions.

The SPU's position boils down to the following: it is necessary to knock into shape all the provisions that relate to strengthening the functions of local authorities and to pass draft 3207-1 as a document of Verkhovna Rada. But that, evidently, won't happen before a new parliament has been elected.

The laws needed to set up a mechanism for implementing the amendments must be passed immediately, although I wouldn't rule out the possibility that laws on the Cabinet of Ministers and the presidential coalition may be passed even before the elections.

Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz has advocated political reform as a step towards a more democratic system of government. In an interview with Iryna Havrylova, Volodymyr Skachko and Oleksandr Yurchuk, he criticized President Yushchenko for opposing amendments to the constitution that reduce the president's remit.

If Yushchenko had publicly approved the changes that came into force on 1 January 2006, parliament would not have dismissed the government, Moroz stated. Speaking about the Orange coalition, Moroz said that his party was not a member of any coalition in the presidential election but supported Viktor Yushchenko personally as a democratic candidate.

Yushchenko was a banner of the Orange Revolution rather than its leader, Moroz maintained. The following is an excerpt from the interview, published in the weekly Kiyevskiy Telegraf on 20 January, under the title "The ice age. Oleksandr Moroz: 'The president has no grounds for holding a referendum'"; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

The political "heat" is at its peak, yet Oleksandr Moroz is maintaining an enviable coolness. This is hard for the Socialist leader to do, though, since the attacks on his favourite brainchild - constitutional reform - are relentless. It came into force on 1 January 2006 and brought about the dismissal of the government, the political crisis and fierce political wrangling between parliament and the president.

It is twice as hard for Moroz, since the Socialists are allies of the head of state, and the best representatives of the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) hold senior posts in that very government that has been dismissed by Verkhovna Rada. Their status is still unclear.

This, however, does not faze Mr Moroz: he remains a supporter of Viktor Yushchenko and is his constitutional "mentor" - much to the dislike of some members of the president's inner circle. The Socialist leader thinks that the best way of "ironing out" the political crises at all levels - from the government crisis to the electoral one - is careful study of the basic law [i.e. the constitution].

Read the constitution, people say, and you will find prescriptions for all of life's ills. He himself has been successfully drawing on them for many years now and so is rightly regarded as one of the most intelligent and prudent Ukrainian politicians.

Will he manage to bring Viktor Yushchenko into that category? What will happen to the Cabinet of Ministers? Will the reform be abolished? Oleksandr Moroz has given Kiyevskiy Telegraf journalists some answers to these questions.

PRESIDENT HAS NO POLITICAL OR LEGAL GROUNDS FOR REFERENDUM ON REFORM
[Interviewer] Oleksandr Oleksandrovych, what do you think of the idea of revising the constitutional reform by means of a referendum? Some members of [Yushchenko's] Our Ukraine are proposing to combine a plebiscite with the parliamentary election.

[Moroz] Attempts are being made today to link all the fuss over reform with the sacking of the cabinet. The real problem boils down to one thing: the executive (and, apparently, the president too) are showing that they don't acknowledge the amendments to the constitution.

This attitude is concealed by various fig leaves, but their meaning is the same. I want to stress that the sacking has nothing to do with the constitutional amendments. The cabinet of [Prime Minister] Yuriy Yekhanurov was dismissed in keeping with the same sort of formula that was once used to fire the government of Viktor Yushchenko [on 26 April 2001].

As for forming a new cabinet, that's impossible given the present composition of parliament. When speaking in Verkhovna Rada, I warned that the government shouldn't be dismissed. Such a step is irrational and is harmful from the state policy point of view, since there are currently no mechanisms for forming the Cabinet of Ministers.

That can only be done by a parliamentary coalition, but, according to the constitution, a coalition can only be formed after the 2006 election.

Still, parliament took the decision, and that means the cabinet has been dismissed. However, it may continue its activities - indeed it must - since it is required to do so by the constitution. Moreover, the parliamentary resolution makes it clear that the present government must function until a new cabinet is formed after March 2006. Everyone is well aware that, in this way, Verkhovna Rada has simply made an appraisal of a number of cabinet officials.

As far as the referendum is concerned, I want to point out that the president has no political or legal grounds for holding it. The constitution stipulates clearly how a referendum may be carried out at the initiative of the head of state. Other options call for a complicated procedure, including the collection of 3m signatures from Ukrainian citizens.

On the basis of current legislation, it is impossible to hold a plebiscite at the same time as parliamentary elections. One further point: the Constitutional Court has already stated its opinion on the referendum. Admittedly, it did pass two diametrically opposed decisions on directly amending the basic law.

No country in the world has the practice of confirming constitutional amendments by plebiscite. If a referendum were to be held in full conformity with the constitution, its result would be approval or disapproval of the whole text of the basic law. Incidentally, such a practice exists in many countries, including Russia.

Not only does the president have no legal grounds for declaring an "anticonstitutional referendum"; he has no political grounds either. We've carried out public opinion polls and found out that there are virtually no forces in society that oppose a democratic parliamentary-presidential model of administration.

As Ostap Bender said, "The ice is on the move!" Most of the political parties and blocs taking part in the elections must react to the public's demands and act accordingly. So, if the president held a referendum today on "cancelling" constitutional reform, he would definitely lose it.

PRESENT CRISIS IS ARTIFICIAL AND CAN EASILY BE RESOLVED

[Interviewer] It has been proposed that a meeting should be held between the president, the prime minister and MPs to seek a solution to the political crisis. Do you think that such a measure would help to boost the level of understanding between the branches of power? Or would it be no more than a political ritual?

[Moroz] The crisis is an artificial one. It can easily be resolved. The president needs to go on television and say: "I acknowledge the amendments to the constitution, and, as its guarantor, I demand that all citizens and all institutions of power should observe the basic law."

It is perfectly obvious that there is a need for networking and for seeking ways towards engaging in a dialogue. When I was the Chairman of Verkhovna Rada [May 1994 to July 1998], I had a very difficult relationship with [the then president] Leonid Kuchma.

When the interests of parliament or the state were at issue, though, I would always be prepared for coordinated action by the legislature and the executive. The present crisis is linked with preparations for the elections - hence the "specific" positioning of certain political forces.

The government's mistakes are being used by the political parties and blocs to produce a contrast and claim: we're not like them, and in difficult crisis circumstances we're able to act more effectively.

In the present situation, the gas problem was chosen as the point of departure. Everyone has tried to play on the issue - from the political heavyweights to the marginal contenders, who are promising the people to lower the price of gas to virtually 20 dollars per 1,000 cu.m. if they win the parliamentary election.

This is despite the fact that specific agreements were reached between the two presidents [Viktor Yushchenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin] in Astana [on 11 January], and it would be shortsighted to count on their being reviewed.

WHAT WILL THE SOCIALIST DO?

[Interviewer] But, if Viktor Yushchenko signs a decree instituting a referendum, how will the SPU act in that eventuality?

[Moroz] The short answer is that the Socialists will act appropriately. I think that the main thing in the current situation is to prevent the president from taking any hasty, unconstitutional action. The president knows my position.

I shall use every opportunity I have to restrain Yushchenko from breaching the constitution, since I stick up for Ukraine's authority and for the authority of the institutions of power, including the presidency.

I disagree with many of Viktor Yushchenko's statements, which I regard as tactless and sometimes simply groundless. How can one say, for example, that the amendments to the constitution were adopted in a difficult political situation, almost on the verge of civil war?

We signed an agreement on this with Yushchenko back on 6 November 2005, when no threats were in the offing\ [ellipsis as published]. Apart from that, the other day, I was watching Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatyy telling the media about the "horrors" of the block voting on 8 December 2004.

The MPs were leaned on, and members pressed other people's [voting] buttons. But nothing of the sort actually happened! The block voting took place properly, all agreements were honoured and all MPs were in their seats.

One other thing: it's fashionable today to talk of the secrecy of political reform. That's not true either: society knew about the replacement of the power model two years before the event. Throughout that time, both the people and the political elite discussed the finer points of constitutional modernization. The process was largely formal, since people aren't interested in the constitution in a state that isn't governed by law, but that's a different matter.

[Interviewer] When the People's Strength coalition appeared, it was the SPU that came in for the accusation that the Socialists would be the first to back out of the agreements with the "orange" [pro-Yushchenko] coalition.

But what happened was the exact opposite: Yuliya Tymoshenko [the ex-prime minister and leader of the YTB, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which supported Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential elections] was the first to split away from the leader of the revolution. If the president does decide to hold a referendum, will the Socialists remain "true" to him?

[Moroz] We didn't join any coalition. We personally supported Viktor Yushchenko's candidature in the presidential election. In addition, Yushchenko isn't the leader of the Orange Revolution. He is its banner.

I regard the people of Ukraine, those who went to the Maydan [Kiev's Independence Square, the focal point of the Orange Revolution] for the sake of freedom and democracy, as being the leader and mover of the "orange" events.

The fact that the SPU did not take part in the vote to dismiss Yekhanurov's cabinet confirms yet again that we are a constructive political force, able to make objective evaluations. In our draft resolution, the cabinet came in for heavy criticism, especially as regards its handling of the gas problem, but the Socialists thought it illogical to dismiss the government.

NO NEW CONSTITUTION

[Interviewer] At the moment, many political forces - the YTB, the PDP [People's Democratic Party] and Our Ukraine - are competing to write new versions of the constitution, claiming that, instead of "rehashing" the old one, it would be better to pass a basic law "from scratch".

How do you see these initiatives? Are the Socialists going to join in the business of a wider editing of the constitution? Your draft 3207-1 was far more detailed in its first version\ [ellipsis as published]

[Moroz] All political forces and even individual citizens can talk about writing a new constitution. Who will adopt these amendments is a different matter. So I can assure you that there will be no new constitutions.

The SPU's position boils down to the following: it is necessary to knock into shape all the provisions that relate to strengthening the functions of local authorities and to pass draft 3207-1 as a document of Verkhovna Rada. But that, evidently, won't happen before a new parliament has been elected.

The laws needed to set up a mechanism for implementing the amendments must be passed immediately, although I wouldn't rule out the possibility that laws on the Cabinet of Ministers and the presidential coalition may be passed even before the elections.

 
The material is represented by Action Ukrainian Report 
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