Accessibility links

Breaking News

Analysis: Yushchenko Decrees Make Waves In Ukraine

Yushchenko finds himself facing scrutiny (file photo) New Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who was inaugurated on 23 January, has already issued a number of decrees that raised eyebrows not only among Ukrainian political observers but also among some of his political supporters and allies from the Orange Revolution.

In particular, both the appointment of regional governors and the creation of the Presidential Secretariat seem to open sources of potential controversies and/or conflicts within Ukraine's new governing elite. Simultaneously, these initial presidential moves also offer insight into what appears to be the beginning of a struggle for political influence within Yushchenko's closest entourage.

To start with, the public appointment of 24 oblast administration heads by Yushchenko in the Verkhovna Rada on 4 February, which took place shortly after the appointment of a new Cabinet of Ministers led by Yuliya Tymoshenko, appears to be at variance with the Ukrainian Constitution. As indicated to journalists by lawmaker Viktor Musiyaka from the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine bloc, Article 118 of the constitution stipulates that regional governors be appointed following nomination by the Cabinet of Ministers. But in fact, the newly appointed ministers had not even had time to congratulate each other on their new jobs before they heard the names of new governors recited by Tymoshenko from the parliamentary rostrum and before Yushchenko signed a string of relevant appointment decrees.

Challenging Issue

In theory, a group of 45 lawmakers is sufficient for submitting a petition to the Constitutional Court to challenge the appointments of governors. According to Musiyaka, the Constitutional Court cannot but cancel Yushchenko's regional appointments -- all of Ukraine witnessed in a live television relay of the government's inauguration as the new president was publicly violating the basic law. However, judging by the overwhelming support the new prime minister and the new government's program obtained in the Verkhovna Rada -- 373 and 357 votes, respectively -- such a legal challenge by lawmakers is not very likely at present.

But the situation may turn very nasty for Yushchenko if some of the dismissed governors take court action demanding that they be reinstated in their governorships and paid financial compensation for the period they were unlawfully pushed out of their posts and deprived of their salaries. According to Musiyaka, irrespective of whether former governors will protest or not, Yushchenko urgently needs to cancel his 4 February decrees on governors and issue new ones, following an appropriate nomination procedure by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Why has Yushchenko made such a major legal blunder at the very start of his presidential career? Most likely, it happened because he was heavily preoccupied with satisfying the appetites of his political allies for government jobs and did not have enough time to ponder the procedural side of appointments. Although it is not exactly known who wanted what in the new government, the televised ceremony of appointments in the Verkhovna Rada on 4 February clearly testified to a harsh and up-to-the-last minute fight of Yushchenko's political adherents for the distribution of government jobs. For example, it could be seen that Yushchenko decided on the appointment of Roman Bezsmertnyy as deputy prime minister and Vitaliy Oluyko as Khmelnytskyy Oblast governor at the very last moment, literally minutes before signing the relevant decrees, much to the visible chagrin of Prime Minister Tymoshenko, who had announced that these posts would remain vacant for some time.
Why has Yushchenko made such a major legal blunder at the very start of his presidential career?

The respected Kyiv-based independent weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" has commented that only some 20 percent of new governors can be categorized as Yushchenko's "relatively good" choices, while the other regional appointments are either "weak" or have a "not fully positive character." This should not be seen as a big surprise or overstatement, given that Yushchenko had hardly spoken to any of the 24 governors prior their nomination or briefed them on their duties in the regions they are to govern. Most likely, Yushchenko made the regional appointments leaning solely on consultations with top political players from his election coalition.

The appointment of Vitaliy Oluyko to the post of Khmelnytskyy governor is a graphic example of what problems Yushchenko may expect from the regions in the future. The appointment of Oluyko provoked a vehement reaction from raion leaders of the Yushchenko election campaign in Khmelnytskyy Oblast, who staged anti-Yushchenko pickets in Khmelnytskyy and Kyiv on 9 February, claiming that Yushchenko made a terrible mistake in awarding the man who worked for his rival, Viktor Yanukovych, during the campaign. The next day Oluyko tendered his resignation and the resignation has reportedly been accepted by Yushchenko. Why did Yushchenko decide on Oluyko at all? Because Oluyko was reportedly recommended by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, whose People's Agrarian Party has joined a pro-Yushchenko parliamentary coalition and been given a "quota" of government jobs for this move.

Another disturbing decree by Yushchenko is that on the creation of the Presidential Secretariat to replace the presidential administration created by former President Leonid Kuchma in 1996. Under the leadership of Viktor Medvedchuk, the presidential administration turned into the chief body of executive power in Ukraine, relegating the Cabinet of Ministers to a minor role. Yushchenko has pledged to strengthen the Cabinet of Ministers and turn the presidential administration into a consultative body dealing primarily with technical and bureaucratic issues of the president's activities. But the decree on the Presidential Secretariat, which was purportedly signed by Yushchenko on 27 January but made public only on 16 February, explicitly gives this body the right "to participate in working out drafts of presidential acts during all stages in the Cabinet of Ministers, the National Security and Defense Council, and other organs of state power" as well as "to ensure and control their implementation."

'Second Cabinet?'

Some have already protested that the Presidential Secretariat is poised to become Ukraine's "second Cabinet of Ministers." The bureaucratic structure of the Presidential Secretariat, Ukrainian observers note, practically reflects the Kuchma-era presidential administration, even if the secretariat's departments and sections now bear different names. As an innovation, the current Presidential Secretariat includes a mysterious unit called the Presidential Cabinet (kabinet prezydenta) -- whose prerogatives are to be determined in a separate decree -- in addition to the no-less puzzling Presidential Office (kantselariya prezydenta).

Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 16 February that the Presidential Secretariat, led by State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko, "fully duplicates" the structure of the Cabinet of Ministers chaired by Tymoshenko and is set to aspire to performing some Cabinet of Ministers functions as well. Tomenko also warned that the State Security and Defense Council (RNBOU), constitutionally headed by Yushchenko but on a daily basis managed by its Secretary Petro Poroshenko, may emerge as yet another center of executive decisions under the Yushchenko presidency, in addition to the Presidential Secretariat, the Cabinet of Ministers, and Yushchenko himself.

Tomenko said he has heard rumors that the post of RNBOU secretary is to be renamed into that of RNBOU deputy head -- that is, the president's deputy in the RNBOU -- in a forthcoming presidential decree on RNBOU new prerogatives. "If everything happens according to such a scenario, we will have one more prime minister, Zinchenko, and a vice president, Poroshenko!" Tomenko predicted. Tomenko is not the only one in Ukraine who is concerned that Yushchenko now may not be so eager to meet the election pledge of running a transparent government, in which the functions and prerogatives of its constituents are clearly defined and not duplicated or overlapped by other bodies. Judging by all appearances, Orange Revolution combatants and brothers-in-arms have already entered a post-revolution stage of internecine warfare in the corridors of power.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.