Early in his first term, Kuchma surprised everyone by pushing through a radical economic reform package. Kuchma's plan called for fiscal and monetary stabilization through the introduction of a new national currency, the hryvna, the reduction of budget deficits and subsidies, the reduction of taxes on enterprises, an independent state bank, privatization and capital accumulation in private hands, the development of Ukraine's first mortgage system, privatization of agriculture, the liberalization of the export-import regime, the delinking of social welfare from individual enterprise, and the creation of a stronger executive system to push through these reforms.
Many in the Ukrainian Parliament and population opposed these moves, however, which were certain to bring at least short-term suffering to some. Little of Kuchma's ambitious program had been implemented by the time of the 1999 presidential elections. Privatization lagged far behind his goals, foreign investment levels were low, and only a major effort by newly appointed prime minister Viktor Yushchenko saved the country from defaulting on its debt to Western bond holders. In April 2002, however, Yushchenko was dismissed, and his efforts to fight corruption and further economic reforms were brought to a halt.
In March 2003, tens of thousands of protesters nationwide took to the streets, calling on Kuchma to resign for abuse of office, corruption, impoverishing the country, vote-rigging in the March 2002 parliamentary elections, illegal arms dealings with Iraq, and involvement in the murder of a journalist who was critical of him. Demonstrators chanted "down with Kuchma" and "no to dictatorship."