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Was Yanukovych's Ouster Constitutional?

Viktor Yanukovych looks down at his glasses before signing an agreement in Kiev on February 21 to end the country's worst crisis since independence.
Viktor Yanukovych looks down at his glasses before signing an agreement in Kiev on February 21 to end the country's worst crisis since independence.
With opposition lawmakers now calling the shots, Ukraine's parliament spent February 23 steamrolling through a litany of key appointments -- including an interim president to replace ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych.
Deputies elected Oleksandr Turchynov, a close ally of newly freed Yulia Tymoshenko and, since February 22, parliament speaker, to fill the presidential post until early elections are held on May 25.
The vote, however, is unlikely to silence questions from the Yanukovych camp about whether his removal from power was legal.
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Yanukovych has taken several steps that appear to undermine his own faith in his presidential legitimacy -- among them, abandoning his office and recording an official statement of resignation.
But the 63-year-old leader, having decamped Kyiv, later retracted his resignation and asserted his role as head of state, calling the vote "illegal." "I'm not going to leave Ukraine or go anywhere. I'm not going to resign. I'm a legitimately elected president," he said.
A majority of 328 lawmakers of the 450-seat parliament voted on February 22 to remove Yanukovych from power, citing as grounds his abandoning office and the deaths of more than 80 protesters and police in the past chaotic week of violence.
Dueling Constitutions

But a legal gap remains. According to the terms of an EU-brokered peace deal finalized on February 21, Yanukovych was due to sign a measure returning Ukraine to its 2004 constitution. (In 2010, Yanukovych restored the country's 1996 constitution, which hands greater power to the presidency.)

WATCH: Ukraine's parliament votes to hand presidential duties to speaker.
Ukrainian Parliament Votes To Hand Presidential Duties To Speaker
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Yanukovych, however, failed to sign the measure. The omission appears to leave Kyiv in the kind of legal limbo that may prove fodder for future arguments against the current government transition.
The 1996 and the 2004 constitutions are uniform when it comes to the reasons for removing a president, with Article 111 stating the parliament has the right to initiate a procedure of impeachment "if he commits treason or other crime."
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However, it is not clear that the hasty February 22 vote upholds constitutional guidelines, which call for a review of the case by Ukraine's Constitutional Court and a three-fourths majority vote by the Verkhovna Rada -- i.e., 338 lawmakers.
Pro-Yanukovych lawmakers may also argue that under the 1996 constitution, it should have been the current acting prime minister, Serhiy Arbuzov, who assumed power after Yanukovych's removal.
The 2004 constitution designates the parliament speaker as the No. 2 position.
That discrepancy may soon become irrelevant, with parliament expected to elect a new prime minister no later than February 24. That post is expected to go to either Tymoshenko, fellow Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) member Arseniy Yatsenyuk, or independent lawmaker and chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko.
Regardless of the outcome, the vote is expected to leave all possible positions of power in the hands of the opposition, according to both the 1996 and 2004 constitutions.
It remains to be seen how the parliament's internal transformation will affect the planned formation of a national-unity government, another concession brokered in the EU deal.
But European officials appear to have tentatively approved the parliament's current progress. In a February 21 tweet published shortly before the Rada's vote to remove Yanukovych, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said there had been "no coup" in Kyiv, and that Turchynov had been "legally" elected parliament speaker.

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