Ukraine - Leadership

A pragmatist who believes that Ukraine must cooperate closely with both Russia and the West, Kuchma appeals to the intellect rather than the heart, quite the opposite of Kravchuk, his predecessor. This pragmatism also reflects his own power base: the industrial leaders of the country who want stability and more production. It also means that he does not have much emotional resonance with the population.

Like Boris Yeltsin and the presidents of many of the other former Soviet republics, Kuchma has sought to reduce the power of the Parliament in various spheres of life, particularly the economy, as a means of breaking the deadlock that has prevented Ukraine from initiating economic reforms. In spite of his insistence, however, on the unilateral right to define the powers of the presidency, this deadlock persisted throughout his first term.

Soon after taking office, he established a Constitutional Commission with the charge of preparing independent Ukraine's Constitution. By 1996, the country was able to adopt its own Constitution.

In his second term, beginning in 1999, he still faced the challenge of bringing to fruition his stated commitment to economic reform. The challenges Kuchma has faced in bringing about substantial change may have affected the parliamentary elections of 30 March 2002, in which Kuchma's candidates did not fare as well as he had anticipated and the majority of votes went to the opposition party, led by former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko. Kuchma's current term expires in 2004, and he is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. In 2002, however, Kuchma announced plans to amend the Constitution to weaken the powers of the president and transfer power to Parliament, in the event that a reformer such as Yushchenko would be elected to the executive post. Yushchenko stated in March 2003 that he feared that the amendments might extend Kuchma's tenure until 2006. The proposed amendments were also seen by some as paving the way for Parliament to amend the Constitution and allow Kuchma to run for a third term. As of late 2002, any suggestion that Kuchma is moving to further consolidate his power and extend his term in office has been met by public protest.

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