A Constitutional Coup in Ukraine

Changing constitutions is always a risky business. But it is a downright dangerous one when undertaken to benefit one man alone. Indeed, when a president volunteers to reduce the powers of his own office, you can be certain that he is up to no good.

That is exactly what is going on in Ukraine, where President Leonid Kuchma proposes to junk our presidential system and replace it with a strange type of parliamentary system he has concocted. Kuchma has not suddenly converted to the view that parliamentary democracies are better than presidential ones. No, Kuchma wants to change Ukraine's constitution for no other reason than to maintain his grip on power.

Today, Kuchma rules as an all-powerful president. But his term ends next year and he cannot run again. So, instead of retiring gracefully, as presidents from Bill Clinton to Boris Yeltsin routinely do, Kuchma wants to change the constitution in order to become an all-powerful prime minister who will never face a limit on the length of his term.

Of course, constitutions are not meant to protect the status quo if the status quo is rotten. Constitutions can, and should, accommodate reform when necessary.