PACE Urges 'Steadfast Resolve'
One day earlier, a PACE session in Strasbourg adopted a monitoring report on Ukraine urging the country's leaders to preserve "their steadfast resolve" in carrying out necessary reforms. "The preparation and conduct of the 2006 parliamentary and local elections in line with Council of Europe standards will be a major test for the new authorities," the report reads. "The 2006 election will show whether Ukraine has passed the point of no return on its road to becoming a truly democratic European state governed by the Rule of Law."
The PACE monitoring report is the sixth since Ukraine joined the Council of Europe in 1995. Apart from an inventory of the progress the country has made so far toward meeting Council of Europe standards, includes a long list of measures that the government still needs to take in order to accelerate the country's transformation into a European democracy.
In the not-so-distant past, PACE was used vigorously by lawmakers from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc as a convenient forum for slamming the corrupt and unreformed regime of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and putting it to shame before Europe. Now Yushchenko and his adherents will have to assume a different and arguably more difficult role in Strasbourg: explaining why they are themselves reluctant to deliver what they previously demanded from Kuchma.
PACE thus urges the Ukrainian authorities to bring to justice those who ordered, organized, and executed the murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. "[PACE] regrets that the case of those who allegedly executed the murder has been separated from the main case-file and has been qualified as a murder committed by a group of persons following their prior collusion, which is seen as a step towards excluding from the prosecution the masterminds and organizers," the report states.
Addressing enthusiastic PACE lawmakers in Strasbourg on 25 January, two days after he took his oath of office, President Yushchenko promised that the Gongadze case would go to court "in a month or two." This week, Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced that the case might work its way to court by the end of October or early November. But many observers in both Strasbourg and Kyiv worry that alleged links between the Gongadze murder and former and present senior Ukrainian officials -- including those implicated in the so-called Melnychenko tapes -- will never be held responsible by a court.
In particular, the Melnychenko tapes arguably suggest that Kuchma might have been the main instigator of the abduction and subsequent execution of Gongadze and that current parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn -- who was head of the presidential administration in 2000 -- might have been an accomplice to that crime. Some say Yushchenko will never allow Kuchma to be implicated in the Gongadze case, citing a secret deal to that effect purportedly made during the 2004 Orange Revolution. According to that scenario, Kuchma then backed Yushchenko in the 2004 election standoff in exchange for a guarantee of freedom from prosecution after the Yushchenko takeover. As for Lytvyn, he and his People's Party -- following the breakup of the original Orange Revolution coalition -- appear to be Yushchenko's main political allies in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
...And Other Unfinished Business
The PACE report also urges Ukrainian authorities to bring to justice the masterminds behind the 2004 election fraud; adopt laws on the presidency and on the cabinet and guarantee conditions for the functioning of a parliamentary opposition; transform state broadcasters into public service channels; and adopt a law on investigative commissions in the Verkhovna Rada. It is not difficult to foresee that Yushchenko might not be particularly enthusiastic to follow any of these recommendations.
One should remember that on 22 September, to secure parliamentary approval of Yekhanurov as the country's new prime minister, Yushchenko signed a "memorandum of understanding" with his former presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovych, whereby he pledged to draft a bill on amnesty for those guilty of election fraud. Implementing the PACE recommendation on the 2004 election fraud would mean Yushchenko backing down on that memorandum. He does not appear to be in the mood for such a move, with the parliamentary support for Yekhanurov's cabinet shaky and Yanukovych's parliamentary group potentially useful during some crucial votes in the future.
As another case in point, take the recommendation on delineating legislatively the powers of the president and those of the Council of Ministers. Yushchenko supported the idea during Kuchma's rule, arguing that the adoption of such laws would make any constitutional reform unnecessary. But he might have had second thoughts, since such laws would clearly define what he is allowed to do and what he is proscribed from doing. As his behavior thus far testifies, he might not be enthusiastic about surrendering decision-making prerogatives. He has appointed ministers, deputy ministers, and chief officers of other central executive bodies as well as regional governors without consulting with the prime minister, as advised in the constitution.
Adopting a law on the opposition would imply, among other things, providing legislative guarantees to the opposition to lead important committees in the Verkhovna Rada. Transforming state broadcasters into public-service channels would primarily mean losing leverage among those media -- hardly a desirable development for any government, let alone Yushchenko's with its current inability to muster sufficient political and legislative support for its policies. Giving a precise formulation of the prerogatives of an investigative parliamentary commission could risk unpredictable political troubles for Yushchenko, particularly after the appearance of the allegations that his presidential campaign might have been sponsored from abroad by self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii.
Some Good News?
However, the PACE report includes one passage that can only be welcome by Yushchenko. The report "deeply regrets" the adoption of the constitutional reform on 8 December 2004, which is to take effect in January and substantially curtail Yushchenko's powers in favor of the parliament and the government. The report stresses that the reform bill, which was a broad political compromise aimed at breaking the political impasse in the presidential election, included two undemocratic provisions: One relates to the imperative mandate of parliamentary deputies, the other to the powers of the Prosecutor-General's Office. And the report essentially concludes that the reform was illegal, since it was adopted without prior consultation with the Constitutional Court, as required by the constitution. PACE urges Ukrainian authorities "to address these issues as soon as possible, in order to secure the legitimacy of the constitutional amendments and their compliance with European standards."
One can assume that Yushchenko will readily lend an ear to this recommendation, especially as his new justice minister, Serhiy Holovatyy, is said to be a staunch opponent of the constitutional reform. So at least on this one point, PACE's expectations of Yushchenko might be vindicated -- even if that would actually mean reversing a reform, not pushing ahead with it.