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CIS: What Happens To Post-Soviet Presidents After They Leave Office? (Part 1)

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova --> What does the future hold for Kuchma? (file photo) Ukraine is the most recent example of a president stepping down in a post-Soviet country. And, although the Ukrainian government determined the privileges and benefits that President Leonid Kuchma would have after he left office, some allies of new President Viktor Yushchenko say a criminal investigation should be launched against Kuchma. In Russia, Boris Yeltsin also left power voluntarily. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, however, was pressured to resign. What happens to presidents after they leave office? In the first part of a two-part series, RFE/RL looks at the privileges and benefits of some post-Soviet presidents. Part 2 will look at Central Asian presidents, their retirement privileges, and possible succession scenarios.

Prague, 7 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It is still unclear what benefits and privileges former Ukrainian President Kuchma will have. The country's cabinet decided on 28 January that Kuchma would receive retirement benefits that include bodyguards, a summer cottage (dacha), and a pension. These are taxpayer-supported benefits for life similar to those received by Ukraine's other retired president, Leonid Kravchuk.

Kuchma is also entitled to live in a mansion in Kyiv's elite Pushcha Voditsa neighborhood and to have two assistants, an adviser, two cars, and four drivers. The dacha comes with a cook, two maids, and two waiters.

But some politicians, mainly allies of Kuchma's successor, Viktor Yushchenko, have called for Kuchma's immediate prosecution for alleged criminal activities. If he were prosecuted and convicted of a crime, Kuchma would lose all of his privileges.

The post-Soviet countries have seen few examples of presidents leaving office voluntarily. Andrei Ryabov, an expert on Russian politics with the Carnegie Moscow Center, told RFE/RL that legislation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) dealing with benefits for former presidents has not yet been developed.

"In the CIS, the system of providing ex-leaders [with benefits and privileges] has not clearly developed yet, unlike the People's Republic of China, [which] has had a very good and effective mechanism since then-leader of China Deng Xiaoping became less active in politics," Ryabov said. "In the post-Soviet space, this system is forming. We've had only two serious precedents -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin and -- [to a lesser extent] -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze."

Ryabov said he did not mention Kuchma because his privileges depend mainly on an upcoming decision by new Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who took office last week.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin stepped down voluntarily on 31 December 1999, before the end of his second term and chose Vladimir Putin as his successor. Yeltsin got unprecedented privileges and became known as "Pensioner No. 1" in Russia. Ryabov said the example set by the extremely comfortable benefits given to Yeltsin did not result in the creation of a standard framework regarding such benefits because his retirement "package" was based on a personal agreement he made with Putin.

"It's too early to say that the system [of privileges and benefits] is complete and finalized because the former leaders' privileges are not based on law, even though they may seem to be based on law," Ryabov said. "In fact, they are based on the promises of the new leader [Putin], who was 'made' by [Yeltsin] and his allies. As long as Vladimir Putin stays in power he will fulfill all the promises [he made to Yeltsin]. But if the next president is critical of Yeltsin and Putin, I doubt he will let Yeltsin keep his privileges."

The major part of an agreement between Yeltsin and Putin was regarding privileges for Yeltsin's family members and for his close allies to hold on to various positions in the government after Putin assumed office.
Georgian President Shevardnadze received significant privileges and benefits despite being forced to leave office early after the 2003 "Rose Revolution."

Ryabov said Putin fulfilled his promises regarding Yeltsin's allies.

"Putin precisely fulfilled all promises regarding Yeltsin's family and key individuals in the Russian political establishment who were closely related to Yeltsin," Ryabov said. "Aleksandr Voloshin remained the head of the presidential administration for the next three years. If he wouldn't have been critical of the [case against Yukos head Mikhail] Khodorkovskii he might have stayed in his position even longer. [And Yeltsin ally Mikhail] Kasyanov headed the government for almost four years, and so on. All those promises [to Yeltsin] were met [by Putin]."

Georgian President Shevardnadze also received significant privileges and benefits despite being forced to leave office early after the 2003 "Rose Revolution."

Germany offered him political asylum soon after he quit office. But Shevardnadze refused to leave Georgia. At the time, some politicians said the ex-president must be charged with crimes. But Shevardnadze was not prosecuted, though his son-in-law was arrested and subsequently released after paying a huge fine.

Muhammad Solih, the leader of the banned Erk opposition party in Uzbekistan, said Shevardnadze's security and privileges were guaranteed by new Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili:

"As an intelligent person Saakashvili provided for a respectful retirement [for Shevardnadze]. If individuals who come to power are patriots and care for the people, they wouldn't aim to imprison the old leaders immediately," Solih said. "For the sake of peace and stability of the people, they would just say: 'OK, he is our first president, we should respect him.' And people should understand this."

However, Solih noted that the treatment of former leaders must depend on their actions during their presidencies. "Obviously, you cannot imagine that new leaders forgive someone who oppressed his people or killed them, as [deposed Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein or [former Serbian President] Slobodan Milosevic [did]," Solih said.

Several post-Soviet countries have already developed legislation on the status of former presidents, including most countries in Central Asia, where there has not been a single case of presidential power transferring through either a democratic election or the appointment of a successor after a leader leaves office.

However, Ryabov and Solih said the rule of law is a necessary condition for the peaceful transfer of power as well as for an ex-president's personal security and well-being.

"If everything in a society depends on one person, his resignation may result in the sinking of units, clans, and corporations and the emergence of new ones belonging to a new leader," Solih said. "This is greatest horror of undemocratic regimes. It is also a tragedy for a society and a state that depends on a single individual."