Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Democracy in the Ukraine

Delivered in Plenary - March 11th 2004

Mr President

In a true democracy a struggle for political power and ideas is healthy and gives people their own choice of government and political leaders. However, the results of an election can never be made certain before polling, preventing people from dismissing an unpopular regime. President Kuchma's belated interest, shortly before his term of office expires, in transforming Ukraine's system from an executive presidential to a parliamentary majority one, with an appointed executive prime minister, raises suspicions that this is a political manoeuvre designed to perpetuate his hold on power when he is trailing far behind opposition leader Mr Ushanka in the polls.

The first constitutional amendment vote in this direction on 24 December was strongly criticised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe because it used a show of hands. Some deputies were even photographed with both hands in the air, which is clearly against the Ukraine parliament's own rules of procedure and a violation of Article 3 of the Council of Europe's Statute, to which Ukraine has made a binding commitment and whose violation could jeopardise Ukraine's membership.

The PACE also criticised the behaviour of the opposition, which protested by blocking all the parliament's work. On 3 February, and under international pressure, the constitutional bill was amended, which we must welcome as an improvement, to maintain a directly elected president albeit a weakened presidency and introduce lifetime security of tenure for judges in order to carry support from the socialist block of Mr Maroz, which has also declared that it will only support the final reading of the bill if substantial reforms are made to democratise the parliament via a proportional representation system. Once again, the government invoked questionable emergency parliamentary procedures to accelerate the voting and bypass national or parliamentary debate.

I would also like to remind the Ukraine Government that under their constitution, normally a constitutional change requires a confirmatory referendum by the people.

Like the rest of this House, I am also concerned about measures which might stifle open and free debate in Ukraine. Certainly pressure on the opposition media is commonplace. The case cited in the resolution of the paper Silski Visti is a bad one, in my view, as it was understandably and rightly prosecuted for publishing three extremely anti-Semitic articles. The government also claims that the end of Radio Liberty broadcasts was entirely due to commercial considerations rather than political reasons of pressure on the opposition.

In defence of Mr Kuchma, the United States allegations of breaking United Nations sanctions last year by exporting the Kolchuha radar system to Iraq have not been proven, as no such radar system has ever been found during the weapons of mass destruction search in Iraq.

Ukraine is now at a crossroads between a western-style democratic future with EU aspirations, which we in the European Parliament support in principle, and reverting to a semi-democratic authoritarian type of system. The choice is Ukraine's to make. We strongly believe the former is preferable for the future prosperity and freedom of its people and that wonderful country.