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World > Europe > Ukraine > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

Ukraine - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Ukraine has a parliamentary-presidential system of government with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The president nominates the defense and foreign ministers, and the Prosecutor General and Chief of the State Security Service (SBU), each of whom must be confirmed by the parliament. Beginning in 2006, the 450-member unicameral parliament (Supreme Rada) names the prime minister, who in turn nominates other ministers. The Supreme Rada initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget. Its members are elected to five-year terms. Following free elections held on December 1, 1991, Leonid M. Kravchuk, former chairman of the Ukrainian Rada, was elected to a five-year term, and became Ukraine's first president. At the same time, a referendum on independence was approved by more than 90% of the voters.

Shortly after becoming independent, Ukraine named a parliamentary commission to prepare a new constitution, adopted a multi-party system, and adopted legislative guarantees of civil and political rights for national minorities. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996, which mandates a pluralistic political system with protection of basic human rights and liberties. Amendments that took effect January 1, 2006, shifted significant powers from the president to the prime minister and Supreme Rada.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, although religious organizations are required to register with local authorities and with the central government. Minority rights are respected in accordance with a 1991 law guaranteeing ethnic minorities the right to schools and cultural facilities and the use of national languages in conducting personal business. According to the constitution, Ukrainian is the only official state language. In Crimea and some parts of eastern Ukraine--areas with substantial ethnic Russian minorities--local and regional governments permit Russian as a language for local official correspondence.

Freedom of speech and press are guaranteed by law and by the constitution, and authorities generally respect these rights. Prior to the 'Orange Revolution,' however, authorities sometimes interfered with the news media through intimidation and other forms of pressure. In particular, the failure of the government to conduct a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation into the 2000 disappearance and murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, in which then-government officials have been credibly implicated, negatively affected Ukraine's international image. Freedom of the media and respect for citizens? rights have increased markedly since the government of President Yushchenko took office in January 2005.

Ethnic tensions in Crimea during 1992 prompted a number of pro-Russian political organizations to advocate secession of Crimea and annexation to Russia. (Crimea was ceded by the RFSSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, in recognition of historic links and for economic convenience, to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine?s union with Russia.) In July 1992, the Crimean and Ukrainian parliaments determined that Crimea would remain under Ukrainian jurisdiction while retaining significant cultural and economic autonomy.

Official trade unions have been grouped under the Federation of Trade Unions. A number of independent unions, which emerged during 1992, among them the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine, have formed the Consultative Council of Free Trade Unions. While the right to strike is legally guaranteed, strikes based solely on political demands are prohibited.

In July 1994, Leonid Kuchma was elected as Ukraine's second president in free and fair elections. Kuchma was reelected in November 1999 to another five-year term, with 56% of the vote. International observers criticized aspects of the election, especially slanted media coverage; however, the outcome of the vote was not called into question. Ukraine's March 2002 parliamentary elections were characterized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as flawed, but an improvement over the 1998 elections. The pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc won the largest number of seats, followed by the reformist Our Ukraine bloc of Viktor Yushchenko (who was then a former Prime Minister), and the Communist Party.

The campaign leading to the October 31, 2004 presidential election was characterized by widespread violations of democratic norms, including government intimidation of the opposition and of independent media, abuse of state administrative resources, highly skewed media coverage, and numerous provocations. The two major candidates--Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Viktor Yushchenko--each garnered between 39% and 40% of the vote and proceeded to a winner-take-all second round. The November 21 runoff election was marred by credible reports of widespread and significant violations, including illegal expulsion of opposition representatives from election commissions, multiple voting by busloads of people, abuse of absentee ballots, reports of coercion of votes in schools and prisons, and an abnormally high number of (easily manipulated) mobile ballot box votes. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Kyiv and other cities to protest electoral fraud and express support for Yushchenko, and conducted ongoing peaceful demonstrations during what came to be known as the 'Orange Revolution.'

The OSCE International Election Observation Mission found that the November 21, 2004 run-off presidential election 'did not meet a considerable number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe and other European standards for democratic elections?Overall, State executive authorities and the Central Election Commission (CEC) displayed a lack of will to conduct a genuine democratic election process.' Other independent observers were similarly critical. On November 24, 2004, the CEC declared Prime Minister Yanukovych the winner with 49.46% compared to 46.61% for Yushchenko. The U.S. and Europe refused to accept the result as legitimate due to the numerous, uninvestigated reports of fraud. European leaders traveled to Kyiv to mediate a political solution between the parties. On November 27, Ukraine?s Supreme Rada passed a resolution declaring that the election results as announced did not represent the will of the people. On December 1, the Rada passed a vote of 'no confidence' in the government. On December 3, Ukraine?s Supreme Court invalidated the CEC?s announced results and mandated a repeat of the second round vote to take place on December 26. An agreement mediated by the European leaders resulted in new legislation being passed by the Rada and signed by the President December 8. The electoral law was reformed to close loopholes that had permitted pervasive electoral fraud. The constitution was amended, effective not earlier than September 2005, to transfer power, especially with respect to appointment of ministers, from the president to the cabinet. Yet another law was passed, in first reading, to devolve some powers of the central government to regional councils. In addition, Prime Minister Yanukovych requested and was granted a leave of absence, and Prosecutor General Hennadiy Vasilyev submitted his resignation.

The December 26 re-vote took place in an atmosphere of calm. While irregularities were noted, observers found no systemic or massive fraud. The OSCE Mission noted that 'campaign conditions were markedly more equal, observers received fewer reports of pressure on voters, the election administration was more transparent and the media more balanced than in previous rounds?in our collective view Ukraine?s elections have moved substantially closer to meeting OSCE and other European standards.' On January 10, 2005, after the CEC and the Supreme Court had considered and rejected numerous complaints and appeals filed by the Yanukovych campaign, the CEC certified the results: Yushchenko had won 51.99% of the votes, with 44.20% for Yanukovych. President Yushchenko was inaugurated January 23, 2005.

Ukraine held parliamentary and local elections on March 26, 2006. International observers noted that conduct of the Rada election was in line with international standards for democratic elections, making this the most free and fair in Ukraine's history. Unlike the first rounds of the 2004 presidential election, candidates and parties were able to express themselves freely in a lively press and assembled without hindrance. There was no systemic abuse of administrative resources as there had been under the previous regime. The Party of Regions and the bloc of former Prime Minster Tymoshenko, whose government the President dismissed in September 2005, finished ahead of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc. Other parties passing the 3% threshold to enter parliament were the Socialist Party of Ukraine and the Communist Party of Ukraine. No party held the majority of Rada seats needed to form a government. Following four months of difficult negotiations, a government led by Prime Minister Yanukovych and including representatives from the Party of Regions, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party took office on August 4, 2006. This, the first government formed after the extensive constitutional amendments brokered as part of the Orange Revolution, has been the focus the Prime Minister's growing influence, sometimes at the expense of the President. Amid shifting political alliances, the 'Anti-Crisis Coalition' formed by the Party of Regions, Socialist and Communist parties has grown into a 'Coalition of National Unity,' as some members of the pro-presidential 'Our Ukraine' bloc have moved into the Prime Minister's camp. Meanwhile, others have joined forces with Bloc Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Security forces are controlled by the president, although they are subject to investigation by a permanent parliamentary commission. Surveillance is permitted for reasons of national security.

After independence, Ukraine established its own military forces of about 780,000 from the troops and equipment inherited from the Soviet Union. Under defense reform legislation passed in 2004, Ukraine is strengthening civilian control of the military, professionalizing its non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps, modernizing force structure to improve interoperability with NATO, and reducing troop numbers, all with an eye toward achieving NATO standards. Current force levels are approximately 225,000 (plus 90,000 civilian workers in the Ministry of Defense). The Ministry of Defense plans to continue force reductions by approximately 20,000 personnel per year to reach a final end state of 143,000 by 2011. Ukraine?s stated national policy is Euro-Atlantic integration, including with both NATO and the European Union. NATO offered Ukraine an 'Intensified Dialogue on Membership Issues' in April 2005. Ukraine had previously signed an agreement with NATO on using Ukraine's strategic airlift capabilities and has been an active participant in Partnership for Peace exercises, in Balkans peacekeeping, and Coalition operations in Iraq. Ukrainian units have been serving in the U.S. sector in Kosovo, and served in the Polish-led division in Iraq. Currently, Ukraine participates in six United Nations peacekeeping missions and has up to 50 troops serving in supporting roles in Iraq.

Principal Government Officials
President--Viktor A. Yushchenko
Prime Minister--Viktor Yanukovych
Foreign Minister--Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Speaker of the Rada (Parliament)--Oleksandr Moroz

Ukraine maintains an embassy at 3350 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-349-2920).


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Ukraine Hryvnia Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Ukraine Hryvnia Exchange Rates


Notes and Commentary
People
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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