The Constitution of Ukraine (Ukrainian: Конституція України) is the nation's fundamental law. The constitution was adopted and ratified at the 5th session of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine on 28 June 1996. The constitution was passed with 315 ayes out of 450 votes possible (300 ayes minimum).
Other laws and other normative legal acts of Ukraine must conform to the constitution. The right to amend the constitution through a special legislative procedure is vested exclusively with the parliament. The only body that may interpret the constitution and determine whether legislation conforms to it is the Constitutional Court of Ukraine.
Until June 8, 1995, Ukraine's supreme law was the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Ukrainian SSR (adopted in 1978, with numerous later amendments). On June 8, 1995, President Leonid Kuchma and Speaker Oleksandr Moroz (acting on behalf of the parliament) signed the Constitutional Agreement for the period until a new constitution could be drafted.
The first constitution since independence was adopted during an overnight parliamentary session after almost 24 hours of debate of June 27-June 28, 1996, unofficially known as "the constitutional night of 1996." The Law No. 254/96-BP ratifying the constitution, nullifying previous constitutions and the Agreement was ceremonially signed and promulgated in mid-July 1996. However, according to a ruling of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, the constitution took force at the moment when the results of the parliamentary vote were announced on June 28, 1996 at approx. 9 a.m. Kiev local time. Ukraine was the last of the post-Soviet states that adopted its own constitution.
The Constitution of Ukraine is divided into 15 chapters:
- General Principles
- Human and Citizens' Rights, Freedoms and Duties
- Elections. Referendums
- Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine
- President of Ukraine
- Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Other Bodies of Executive Power
- Territorial Structure of Ukraine
- Autonomous Republic of Crimea
- Local Self-Government
- Constitutional Court of Ukraine
- Introducing Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine
- Final Provisions
- Transitional Provisions
In accordance with Chapter XIII: Ukraine's Constitution can only be amended with the consent of no less than two-thirds of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
In addition amendments to Chapter I — "General Principles," Chapter III — "Elections. Referendum," and Chapter XIII — "Introducing Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine," can only be amended by the parliament of Ukraine on the condition that it is also approved by an All-Ukrainian referendum designated by the President of Ukraine.
In May 2012 President Viktor Yanukovych set up the Constitutional Assembly of Ukraine; a special auxiliary agency under the President for drawing up bills of amendments to the Constitution, the president then will introduce them in parliament.
2004 and 2010 amendments and 2014 return to 2004 amendments
On December 8, 2004, the parliament passed Law No. 2222-IV amending the constitution. The law was approved with a 90 percent majority (402 ayes, 21 nays, and 19 abstentions; 300 ayes required for passage) simultaneously with other legislative measures aimed at resolving the 2004 presidential election crisis. It was signed almost immediately in the parliamentary chamber by the outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and promulgated on the same day.
These amendments weakened the power of the President of Ukraine; he/she lost the power to nominate the Prime Minister of Ukraine and this became the task of the parliament solely. The President could only appoint the Minister of Defence and Foreign Minister. The President also lost the right to dismiss members of the Cabinet of Ukraine but gained the right to dissolve parliament. If no coalition in parliament could be formed to appoint a Prime Minister, the President would have no choice but to call new parliamentary elections.
The 2004 constitutional amendments were passed in the Parliament only with limited consultation and discussion between political forces, in the context of the Orange Revolution. They therefore attracted criticism from several internal (Ukrainian political parties) and external bodies (the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Venice Commission).
The amendments took force unconditionally on January 1, 2006. The remaining amendments took force on May 25, 2006, when the new parliament assembled after the 2006 elections.
On October 1, 2010, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine overturned the 2004 amendments, considering them unconstitutional. The Court had started to consider the case on the political reform in 2004 under a motion from 252 coalition lawmakers regarding the constitutionality of this reform of July 14, 2010. The 2010 nullification decision was highly controversial. The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner received several reports alleging that the resignation of four judges in the run-up to the decision occurred as a result of extensive pressure by the executive. On November 18, 2010 The Venice Commission published its report titled The Opinion of the Constitutional Situation in Ukraine in Review of the Judgement of Ukraine's Constitutional Court, in which it stated "It also considers highly unusual that far-reaching constitutional amendments, including the change of the political system of the country - from a parliamentary system to a parliamentary presidential one - are declared unconstitutional by a decision of the Constitutional Court after a period of 6 years. ... As Constitutional Courts are bound by the Constitution and do not stand above it, such decisions raise important questions of democratic legitimacy and the rule of law".
On February 21, 2014 the parliament passed a law that reinstated the December 8, 2004 amendments of the constitution. This was passed under simplified procedure without any decision of the relevant committee and was passed in the first and the second reading in one voting by 386 deputies. The law was approved by 140 MPs of the Party of Regions, 89 MPs of Batkivshchyna, 40 MPs of UDAR, 32 of the Communist Party, and 50 independent lawmakers. According to Radio Free Europe, however, the measure was not signed by the then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who was subsequently removed from office.