December 30, 2005

Referendum possible on constitution: Ukraine leader

KIEV (Reuters) - President Viktor Yushchenko said on Friday
constitutional changes reducing his powers from the New Year
could destabilise Ukraine and suggested he might call for a
referendum on the matter.

The changes, approved by parliament a year ago at the
height of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution," were part of a deal to
win broad agreement on restaging a rigged presidential

Yushchenko won the re-run against a candidate backed by
Russia and took office in January.

"The biggest threat is that we could end up with unbalanced
and therefore ineffective government in Ukraine. The balance is
shifting toward institutions that cannot properly ensure
stability," Yushchenko said in a television interview.

"The current balance is also not ideal. But what is
proposed could hurt relations between the various branches of
power. The issue of a referendum will be on the agenda."

Under the current changes due to come into effect on
January 1, 2006 the president is no longer free to nominate the
prime minister and other key ministers.

Critical appointments will have to enjoy the support of a
majority in what is often a fractious chamber. And with a
parliamentary election due in March, the prime minister will
almost certainly emerge from the largest group in the chamber.

The changes were originally proposed by Yushchenko's
predecessor Leonid Kuchma -- whose chosen successor lost last
year's long and bruising presidential election.

Urged on by European mediators, particularly ex-Polish
President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Yushchenko reluctantly agreed
to the changes to end last year's upheaval.

He has been increasingly critical of the new arrangements
as parliament has no stable majority and he has had difficulty
pushing key reform legislation through the assembly.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, sacked by the
president in September but now a serious rival to his allies
running in the March election, initially opposed the changes.
She now backs them as a check on presidential power.