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Ukraine’s President intends to re-draft Constitution

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko has announced his intentions to re-draft the country's Constitution. The move follows changes that went into effect last year that watered down presidential powers in favour of the Prime Minister. He made the announce

The mood has been festive on Friday in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the occasion of the country's 16th anniversary of independence .

Lyudmila Poltavchenko, a woman selling Ukrainian flags out in the street, asserts Independence Day is a bigger holiday for her than New Year and Christmas eve. She says that her country was born 16 years ago and as any teen of the same age, it needs support and encouragement.

“When we were singing carols, we had to hide holy stars in our sacks from the police. It was not allowed. It was really difficult in the Soviet Union. When we were singing in Ukrainian, others thought we were drunk and could report us to the police,” the woman complained.

But even if independence provided Ukrainians with the freedom of speech and political choice, many of them are still living on the poverty line.

“Today is one of the best days in my life. On one hand, it’s good to be independent, but on the other hand I wish our Prime Minister once tried to make a living with my pension. It hasn’t changed from the times of Lenin,” says pensioner Aleksandr Sklarov.

A military parade, concerts and sports competitions have attracted thousands of people from all over Ukraine, and politicians managed to play the occasion to their advantage. The airships flew the Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s slogans. President Yushchenko, for his part, used the stage to announce plans to rewrite the constitution.

I will convene a national constitutional council that will draft a new version of the Ukrainian Constitution. This process will not be accomplished overnight but nobody will be able to delay it. It cannot be a hostage of elections because it is of fundamental importance to one and all. I do repeat that the main law of our country will be approved at the national referendum.

Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's President

Changing the Constitution is a hot subject in Ukrainian politics. Both the presidential Our Ukraine party and Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc have incorporated the idea into their election platforms.

It all started back in 2004 when President Yushchenko rose to power on the waves of the Orange Revolution and agreed to make changes to the Constitution so that Ukraine could become a parliamentary republic. Before that, it was a presidential one. These changes came into effect about a year ago, on the eve of the parliamentary elections campaign.

Major changes started when President Yushchenko’s bitter foe, Viktor Yanukovich, staged a miraculous comeback to power and became Prime Minister. And, as Ukraine was no longer a presidential republic but a parliamentary one, the Prime Minister is now enjoying more powers than the President.

This particular subject is puzzling the pro-presidential parties at the moment. Ms Timoshenko has already made a number of attempts to set a referendum on the day of the election which is scheduled to take place on September 30. She wanted to ask the people whether they would like Ukraine to remain a parliamentary republic as it is now, or go back to the presidential form. On Friday, the President initiated the formation of a special council that would start reviewing these changes. This does not mean that the referendum will be carried out on the same day as the elections, but the subject is looming – that very soon, if they get enough signatures, the public referendum will really take place.

And so the festivities became once again an extension of the power struggle between the President and the Prime Minister.

It was a holiday for some and a farce for others. Ongoing political feuds confuse the public and make them uncertain of the young country they live in. This festive chaos will soon turn into another election campaign. And it may become a better test on independence and an attempt to end a seemingly permanent political crisis.