On September 24, 2003, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a meeting on "Ukrainian Democracy at Crossroads" with Dr. Volodymyr Lytvyn, Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament. He addressed the issues of parliamentary and constitutional reform, and U.S.-Ukraine relations. Anders Åslund moderated the session.

Dr. Lytvyn noted that, while Ukraine could be considered a democratic country, the current period is crucial to its future political development and the entrenchment of democracy. The Parliament will play a decisive role in determining what kind of state Ukraine will be and in structuring the domestic and international agenda.

These developments are framed by the upcoming presidential election. The role of the parliament, Dr. Lytvyn remarked, is to create a political environment that is reliable and predictable, limiting the influence of politicians' personal interests in the democratic political game. To prevent feudal principles from governing political party relations, a clearly defined "civilized law" is needed to establish the principle of proportional representation both in parliament and at the local level. Furthermore this principle would allow new generations to participate in the political process and new modern political parties to emerge.

Several constitutional amendments aimed at a parliamentary system are currently being discussed. While this development is positive, Dr. Lytvyn warned against a destabilization of the Constitution. The deadline for any constitutional change before the presidential elections would be February/March 2004. However, no constitutional reform is likely because the necessary 300 votes will be hard to gather. Vyktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine opposes a transition to a parliamentary system. The rest of the opposition supports a proportional representation scheme, while part of the parliamentary majority is firmly opposed.

In addition, legislation has been drafted to change presidential elections from popular suffrage to a system based on an electoral college. Speaker Lytvyn recognized the implications of the law for the 2004 elections, but observed that, regardless of the outcome, the first round would see the participation of at least eight candidates in either system.

Underlining the notion that an active civil society is one of the key characteristics of a consolidated democracy, Speaker Lytvyn saw it as the parliament's responsibility to help eliminate barriers between government and society by mobilizing the intellectual class.

He also stressed that the parliament should implement the rule of law, approve legislation regulating the country's economic activities, ensure the separation of politics from private interests and create an independent judiciary. In particular, the parliament should pass codes for civil and criminal judicial procedures.

With regard to foreign policy, and specifically to Ukraine's bilateral relations with the U.S., Speaker Lytvyn admitted that, despite the positive developments following U.S. recognition of Ukraine's independence and the latter's embrace of nuclear-free status, the 1998-99 period was characterized by a cooling in the relations. He attributed the lack of collaboration to insufficient progress in Ukraine's market and democratic reforms, but was confident about the prospects of a strategic partnership with the U.S.

Dr. Lytvyn also highlighted Ukraine's intentions to pursue full integration into the European Union, NATO and the WTO. Despite concerns that these aspirations could be incompatible with the upcoming ratification of the Common Economic Space accord between Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, he observed that the agreement would be in full compliance with the principles established by the parliament and the WTO. Furthermore, arguing against those who are strongly opposed to the CES, he declared that a referendum would show 70 to 75 percent of Ukrainians to be in favor.

Finally, Dr. Lytvyn addressed the implications of the Heorhiy Gongadze murder case on the government's commitment to the rule of law, stating that every effort is being made to ensure the transparency of the process within parliamentary procedures. Against accusations of his connection to the case and the recent publication of the deceased policeman Ihor Honcharov's letters, he recalled his own involvement in the formation of the investigation commission. Moreover, he noted that in order to find out the truth and avoid the process from derailing, one should consider the political events of he last two years and the interests involved. He referred to the Prosecutor-General's report, which provides extensive information on the latest developments in the Gongadze investigation and, and also to his meeting schedule with all the parties represented in the parliament.

Summary prepared by Silvia Manzanero, Junior Fellow with the Russia and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.