Ukraine's Constitutional Court has handed President Viktor Yanukovych a major victory, ruling that parliament violated the constitution at the height of the Orange Revolution by approving limitations on presidential power.
Anatoliy Holovin, head the highest court, announced the ruling in Kyiv by saying the December 8, 2004, amendments "does not correspond to the Constitution of Ukraine, is unconstitutional, due to violations of constitutional procedures for its consideration and adoption."
The ruling restores the Ukrainian president's authority to choose the prime minister and the cabinet, effectively shifting the country from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. Previously, a majority in parliament was required to confirm the president's nominations for prime minister and cabinet posts.
Yanukovych applauded the decision but stressed that he does not plan sweeping changes and will continue to seek broad-based support.
Speaking at a forum in Yalta at the same time that the court announced its ruling, Yanukovych said, "Given the sad lessons of the past, we proceed go through a broad dialogue and legitimate decisions." He pledged to strengthen representative democracy, local self-government, and the respect of human rights.
Later, Yanukovych suggested that Ukraine needed constitutional reform, possibly through a referendum. In an address to the nation, the text of which was carried on his website, Yanukovych said: "I support the idea of a referendum and the idea of a national constitutional assembly...to consolidate reforming the political system."
The president's political opponents were quick to denounce the court ruling as a step toward authoritarianism.
Talk Of A 'Coup'
Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko compared the ruling to the 1991 coup attempt against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
"This day, October 1, 2010, will go down in Ukrainian history as the day of the murder of democracy, the day of the establishment of dictatorship, as the day of the Ukrainian GKChP," Tymoshenko said in a reference to the State Committee of the State of Emergency group behind the so-called August coup.
Parliament Deputy Serhei Sobolev, deputy chairman of Tymoshenko's bloc, echoed Tymoshenko's alarm. "A coup d'etat has taken place in the country," Sobolev said. "The constitution, the fundamental law of the country, has been violated."
He went on to call for early elections. "The only legitimate way out of this situation is early presidential and parliamentary elections," Sobolev said. "This is the way out. Otherwise, dictatorship and anticonstitutional government will be legitimized in the country."
Analysts also questioned the court's ruling.
Political scientist Viktor Nebozhenko told RFE/RL that the court verdict exacerbated Ukraine's already muddled political situation.
"The Constitutional Court, with its decision, has created a frightening constitutional collision," Nebozhenko said. "It wanted to act for the best, but it turned out the way it always does. It has really worsened the situation in the country because it has placed itself in the position of the highest legislative organ and has ordered the legislature to execute -- to become an executive organ."
Question Of Authority
Ihor Koliushko, head of the Kyiv-based Center for Political and Legal Reforms, agreed and said he didn't understand "where the Constitutional Court is getting the authority to change the current constitution with this decision."
"The logic of this decision would suggest that until now 2004 constitution was valid and, from today, the Constitutional Court said that all laws and legislative acts shall be adopted in accordance with the provisions of the 1996 constitution," Koliushko said. "This means the Constitutional Court has exceeded the powers granted it by the constitution."
Parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn called for a constitutional commission to determine the current text of the constitution and for parliament to ratify its findings.
Yanukovych's Party of Regions currently holds 175 seats in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada; the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc has 156; the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense Bloc has 72; the Communist Party has 27; and the Lytvyn Bloc has 20.
RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondents Mikhail Mihalisko and Maryana Drach and RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report