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Ukraine court reverses Orange Revolution, hands president more power

Ukraine's Constitutional Court essentially nullified the amendments that paved the way for greater democracy after the Orange Revolution, giving the pro-Russia president greater powers.

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The impact of the decision will be to return Ukraine to the terms of its 1996 Constitution, which granted the lion's share of power to the president, including the authority to name the prime minister and government cabinet.

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Years of gridlock, massive corruption

Critics maintain that the old "presidential" constitutional system led to massive corruption and power abuses under former President Leonid Kuchma. It also spawned the alleged vote rigging that enabled Mr. Kuchma's handpicked successor, Yanukovich, to win the first round of the controversial 2004 presidential election, and which triggered the Orange Revolution.

Those compromises six years ago arguably prevented full-scale confrontation between two sides in Ukraine, which is deeply divided between its Russified and pro-Moscow east and more nationalistic and westward-leaning western regions.

But they also led to years of gridlock between pro-West former President Viktor Yushchenko and the opposition-dominated Supreme Rada, which stymied most of his attempts to reform Ukraine's economy and align the country more closely with the European Union. Mr. Yushchenko also fell out with his Orange Revolution ally, Ms. Tymoshenko, and ended his presidency in a humiliating electoral debacle earlier this year.

Who supports the court decision, and why

Supporters of the court decision say Ukraine needs a strong executive hand to guide it through the ongoing economic crisis and help it navigate the rough diplomatic waters between Moscow and the West.

"The court has canceled badly thought-out constitutional changes that were hastily – and it turns out illegally – made back in 2004," says Dmitro Vydrin, director of the independent Institute of Integration and Development in Kiev. "I hope we will now be able to move forward. After all, Ukraine's 1996 constitution was hailed around the world at the time as 'the most democratic' in the former Soviet Union. If there were abuses, they happened because Kuchma broke the constitution, not because the system was bad."

The Kiev court's decision will probably be welcomed by the Kremlin, which dispensed with its own strong legislature in a two-day Moscow gun battle back in 1993, and has repeatedly expressed discomfort with pro-parliamentary eruptions in its own region – most recently in Kyrgyzstan – ever since.

"Ukraine's system is moving closer to the Russian system of power," says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the independent Kiev Center for Political and Conflict Studies.

"Theoretically speaking, when all power is concentrated in the hands of a single person, management becomes simplified. But, of course, that depends on whether the person in question knows what to do."

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