widespread news reports that Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych was
impeached, the U.S.
"Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty" has revealed that he was not. In a
story titled "Was Yanukovych's Ouster Constitutional?", the U.S.
international broadcaster documented that the efforts to impeach him fell short
of the constitutionally required vote.
The RFE/RL story reports that "A majority of 328 lawmakers of the 450-seat parliament voted on February 22 to remove Yanukovych from power." It goes on to observe that the constitution calls for "a review of the case by Ukraine's Constitutional Court and a three-fourths majority vote by the Verkhovna Rada -- i.e., 338 lawmakers." That vote margin didn't materialize, and the required court review never took place.
That didn't stop world media outlets from reporting on Yanukovych's impeachment, though. Al Jazeera reported unequivocally, "Ukraine President Yanukovych impeached." The Toronto Star wrote, "Ukraine's future hangs in the balance as Yanukovych is impeached..." Even the Kyiv Post claimed, "Parliament votes 328-0 to impeach Yanukovych..."
Fox News wrapped it all up with this: "Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine's capital, Kiev, Saturday after being impeached by the country's parliament, defiantly insisted that he remains the legitimate leader of Ukraine."
But there was no impeachment. The constitutional threshold for impeachment clearly was not met. Didn't any of these news organizations check their facts? Aren't they concerned about misleading their audiences?
To attempt clearing up all this misinformation, I called the Ukrainian mission to the United Nations for an answer. I talked to spokesperson Yegor Pyvovarov. He affirmed that Yanukovych was not impeached. Couldn't the news organizations have sought confirmation from Pyvovarov or his colleagues, too? What's wrong with these so-called news outlets?
But if Yanukovych was not impeached, what happened to him?
I asked Pyvovarov that question, too. He explained that the constitutional procedure for impeachment is quite onerous. Instead, he said, Yanukovych was removed because he "left his constitutional duties." That notion was backed up by Olexandr Motsyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. In a letter to the U.S. Congress, he said, "Yanukovych fled the capital and de facto removed himself from his constitutional authority."
Does that mean Yanukovych quit? The Fox News report has Yanukovych claiming he's still president. Many other outlets carried the same message. Were those reports as inaccurate as the ones about the alleged impeachment?
It turns out it doesn't really matter whether or not Yanukovych abandoned his post. I found that the only way he can relinquish his office on his own would be if he "personally announces the statement of resignation at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine," according to the constitution. The Verkhovna Rada is the country's parliament. Yanukovych never appeared before that body to resign. Yet the credentialed ambassador of Ukraine tried to tell the American Congress that Yanukovych left office through his own doing. What a lot of bunkum! I wonder how many naive Congress members were sucked in by his misrepresentations?
The unconstitutional presidential switcheroo is not the only unconstitutional action of the new Ukrainian regime. Not only did it throw out Yanukovych, it also threw out the constitution. According to Ambassador Motsyk's letter to Congress, the Verkhovna Rada "restored" the 2004 constitution.
From what I can see, the extant constitution had no provision for "restoration" to a previous version. Indeed, the amendments that brought about the 2004 version of the constitution were subsequently declared unconstitutional by Ukraine's Constitutional Court. So the new regime has unconstitutionally reverted to a version of the constitution that has already been declared unconstitutional. This all seems quite chaotic.
There is a procedure for amendment of the constitution, however. If the regime believed it necessary to change the constitution, couldn't it have followed the prescribed procedure? Actually, it couldn't have. You see, the constitution says, "The Constitution of Ukraine shall not be amended in conditions of martial law or a state of emergency." There's little to refute that the country has been in a state of emergency. That means no constitutional amendments for now.
This leaves little for the new regime to hang its hat on, constitutionally, that is. Does that make the leaders criminals who should be punished? Or is there a point to the regime-change idea?
I've talked with a number of Ukrainians who believe that it was indeed time for Yanukovych to go. There are stories of pre-election promises that were grossly not lived up to. And rhetoric abounds about monumental corruption and personal enrichment by Yanukovych and his family and associates. And the country suffers under terrible economic conditions.
So there very well may be a mandate for change. And constitutional remedies may have been inadequate. It's said that Yanukovych's hold on the Verkhovna Rada stood in the way. Other countries facing a similar dilemma have indeed chosen a revolutionary path. I'm talking about a real revolution, not a trumped-up constitutional transition that relies on falsehoods and trickery.