Friday, November 26, 2004

The oath of office

It looks as if the actual swearing-in ceremony for Yanukovych is set to take place today instead of yesterday as was originally planned (and as I originally reported.) It will be interesting to see if they go through with it now that the Supreme Court has quashed the certification by the election commission. The legal effect of the court order should be that Yanukovych cannot be sworn in as president because the election, in legal effect, has not been certified as of yet.

You would think this means that the swearing-in would be put on hold until the Court rules on the certification. And that is how it would play out in the countries of the West. But this is not the West and we are in this current situation in the first place because the rules have been flouted wholesale.

So will Yanukovych be sworn in today? I suspect he will be. There is an authority vacuum out there right now which is being filled more and more by Yuschenko standing at the head of the multitudes on the street.

Kuchma has all but disappeared. He is heard from from time to time in the press but that is about it. I think he wanted to retreat to the background after Yanukovych was elected and assumed power and that is what he has seemed to do. But Yanukovych has not assumed power yet and, with Kuchma out of sight, there really is no one in charge right now.

But not if you look at it from the perspective of the people here. In a speech yesterday, Yuschenko told every institution of government, and the press was included in this, what their duties were under the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. It sounded like he was setting up his government out there right on the street. And he is doing things to take care of the people out there too. He has made special pleas for the people of Kiev to take care of those who have traveled here from other areas, to make sure they are fed, that they have a place to stay and that they are kept warm when they are out in the cold. And he has asked for donations of food and clothing and money from the people here to help those down on the square. And yesterday, he asked for medicine to be brought down because some of the people are sick with pneumonia and need it. And the money, food and clothing are coming in.

What all of this means to the people is that Yuschenko is, in short, acting like president.

The oath of office he took in the legislature on Tuesday was dismissed by the Speaker as not legal. And it wasn’t from a legal point of view. (The Speaker, Vladimir Lytvyn, if I have that right, seems to be a man of principle though. He warned the administration that they could not ignore what was going on in the streets.) But we are not in any territory that could be defined by law anyway. I think that oath of office, taken in the well of the legislature, his hand on a copy of the Bible, a copy, by the way. which is over 300 years old, was an oath taken before the people. It may not have been an oath that had any legal effect, but I think it was an oath that had an effect on the psyche of the people. And by “psyche” I mean something in the much older sense of the word, something more akin to the soul. For the Ukrainian people, the soul is an important thing, the Ukrainian soul. This oath of office was to the soul of the Ukrainian people taken before God, on a Bible old enough to represent some of the traditions and the flow of life of the Ukrainian people over generations. That is not nothing. As a matter of fact, in the end, it might be everything. I think it is for the Ukrainians. (And it even might mean something in the West. Constitutions in the final analysis rest ultimately on the loyalties of the people.)

The other problem is with the institutions of government. In an interesting informal poll, a reporter for the Kyiv Post asked those who were guarding government buildings who the president was now. Many of them did not know. This might be true of all the institutions of government right now. They may not know who is the president, who it is to whom they owe their allegiance. (And allegiance is an important thing here.) If he wants to assert control over the institutions of government, I think he will see that he needs to take the oath of office.

Yanukovych did not rise to power by having his authority questioned. He rose to power by asserting it and making people understand just who was in charge. Though this is the big leagues and it is possible as Newsweek says, that he might not know what to do, I still think the gut reaction for him will be to assert his authority. That means taking the oath.

But if he does that, it will undercut the authority of the Supreme Court and undermine the constitution and I think that will effectively put an end to it. And that might just signal the beginning of an effort to crackdown on the protests.

Who knows what’s going to happen, though. I thought before that the Ukrainians would just accept the election regardless and move on with a life that has gotten steadily better for them the past couple of years. This has surprised me no end.

UPDATE: Vladimir Litvyn, the Speaker of the Ukrainian legislature, the Rada, said that there will be no swearing in of Yanukovych today. He said there is a session of the Rada scheduled for tomorrow but that the swearing-in would not take place then either.

Of course, he is meaning a legal swearing-in. It is possible for Yanukovych to do the same thing Yuschenko did and take the oath of office while his party cheers him on. He could do it more consitutionally even than Yuschenko did by putting his hand on a copy of the constitution, as is required, rather than on the Bible. But to less effect I think than Yuschenko's.

Maybe it takes a clever man to think this way. Or maybe he is thinking about his country which would be a good thing to start to do. Or maybe he is thinking about a loss of prestige internationally if he did this and the possibility of having bank accounts frozen and visas denied so he and his can't travel and enjoy the fruits of the sweat of his brow. Whatever it is, as with everything else, we shall see.

10 comments:

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