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Backgrounds: Ukraine Government
Ukraine has a presidential/parliamentary system of government with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The president nominates the prime minister, who must be confirmed by the parliament. The 450-member unicameral parliament (Supreme Rada) initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget. Its members are elected to four-year terms. Following free elections held on December 1, 1991, Leonid M. Kravchuk, former chairman of the Ukrainian Rada, was elected president for a five-year term. At the same time, a referendum on independence was approved by more than 90% of the voters. Political groupings in Ukraine include former communists, socialists, agrarians, liberals, nationalists and various centrist and independent forces.
Shortly after becoming independent, Ukraine named a parliamentary commission to prepare a new constitution, adopted a multi-party system, and adopted legislative guarantees of civil and political rights for national minorities. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996, which mandates a pluralistic political system with protection of basic human rights and liberties.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, although religious organizations are required to register with local authorities and with the central government. Minority rights are respected in accordance with a 1991 law guaranteeing ethnic minorities the right to schools and cultural facilities and the use of national languages in conducting personal business. According to the constitution, Ukrainian is the only official state language. In Crimea and some parts of eastern Ukraine -- areas with substantial ethnic Russian minorities -- ocal and regional governments permit Russian as a language for local official correspondence.
Freedom of speech and press are guaranteed by law and by the constitution, but authorities sometimes interfere with the news media through intimidation and other forms of pressure. In particular, the failure of the government to conduct a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation into the 2000 disappearance and murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, in which government officials have been credibly implicated, has had a negative effect on Ukraine's international image.
Ethnic tensions in Crimea during 1992 prompted a number of pro-Russian political organizations to advocate secession of Crimea and annexation to Russia. (Crimea was ceded by the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, in recognition of historic links and for economic convenience, to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine's union with Russia.) In July 1992, the Crimean and Ukrainian parliaments determined that Crimea would remain under Ukrainian jurisdiction while retaining significant cultural and economic autonomy.
Official trade unions have been grouped under the Federation of Trade Unions. A number of independent unions, which emerged during 1992, among them the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine, have formed the Consultative Council of Free Trade Unions. While the right to strike is legally guaranteed, strikes based solely on political demands are prohibited.
In July 1994, Leonid Kuchma was elected as Ukraine's second president in free and fair elections. Kuchma was reelected in November 1999 to another five-year term, with 56 percent of the vote. International observers criticized aspects of the election, especially slanted media coverage; however, the outcome of the vote was not called into question. In March 2002, Ukraine held its most recent parliamentary elections, which were characterized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as flawed, but an improvement over the 1998 elections. The pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc won the largest number of seats, followed by the reformist Our Ukraine bloc of former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, and the Communist Party. There are 450 seats in parliament, with half chosen from party lists by proportional vote and half from individual constituencies.
Security forces are controlled by the president, although they are subject to investigation by a permanent parliamentary commission. Surveillance is permitted for reasons of national security.
Ukraine established its own military forces of about 780,000 from the troops and equipment inherited from the Soviet Union. It has reduced this figure to approximately 295,000 (plus 90,000 civilian workers in the Ministry of Defense), with the goal of further reductions to around 275,000 by 2005. Ukraine's stated national policy is Euro-Atlantic integration, including with both NATO and the European Union. Ukraine has a Distinctive Partnership with NATO and has been an active participant in Partnership for Peace exercises and in Balkans peacekeeping. Ukrainian units have been serving in Kosovo, in the U.S. sector, and in Iraq, in the Polish-led division.
Ukraine maintains an embassy at 3350 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-333-0606)
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