The History of Presidency

Translated from Latin, the word "president" means "sitting ahead." The development of this political institution started at the end of the 18th century and coincided with the appearance of the first democratic systems in the countries of the Old and New Worlds. In the 18-20th centuries, the institution of presidency became an integral part of the republican form of government and an important feature of the democratic system.

The modern form of the democratic republic derives from a very long lineage that can be traced back to the ancient Greek city-states, which include several that existed on the present-day territory of Ukraine (Olvia, Pantecapaion and Chersonesus). From the 6th to the 1st century BC, Rome was an established republic, which was followed in the Middle Ages by numerous city-republics in what would become Italy (such as Venice, Genoa, Florence). Later, the Republic of United Provinces appeared in the Netherlands (1572), and a republican system of government reigned in Britain at the time of the Revolution (1649-1660). These republics chart the evolving form of government that gave birth to what is now known as the republican model.

The first modern republics, headed by a President, appeared relatively recently and only in the New World. Their rise is seen as a reaction by young colonialists against the onerous strictures of Old World monarchies, from whose system they fled. In keeping with the pioneering ideology of the settlers, the post of President was not appointed for life, but rather elected for set terms, and what is more important, the powers of the Presidency were limited by the Constitution. The institution of Presidency was vested with the main task of the republican system – to guarantee the observance of the Constitution, and therefore, of democracy.

George Washington was elected the first President of the United States of America in 1789 and soon the institutions of presidency began proliferating swiftly in various countries of the New World: Haiti (1807), Paraguay (1813), Argentina (1816), Chile (1817), Columbia (1819), Costa Rica and Peru (1821), Mexico (1824), Bolivia (1825), Venezuela, Ecuador and Uruguay (1830), Nicaragua (1835), Guatemala (1839), Honduras and El Salvador (1841), and the Dominican Republic (1844). The first president-heads of state in Europe were Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in France and Jonas Furrer in Switzerland in 1848. The first president in Asia was Sun Yat-sen of China, elected in 1911, and a bit later, in 1923, Mustafa Kemal – called Atatürk – became the President of Turkey. In Africa, the first president headed Liberia in 1847, and in 1854 the Orange Republic adopted a presidency (since 1910 it has been a part of the present South African Republic).

Nowadays, presidents head most states in the world. Their responsibilities include: representation of the states in domestic and international relations; ensuring state sovereignty and national security; appointment and dismissal of heads of diplomatic missions abroad and certain members of the government; leadership of the Armed Forces; conferring state awards, military and civil titles; granting pardons; decision-making regarding citizenship of the state; and many other official duties.

Depending on the type of republic (presidential or parliamentary), presidents have a wider or narrower scope of authority for appointing the Prime Minister or making laws. In the vast majority of republics, the president is the most important political figure.

However, in some states like Germany, Italy and Israel, the president has a mostly representative function, and it is the chancellor or prime minister, who is “the face” of the state. In a number of countries, including Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and Japan, monarchical dynasties have been maintained. While remaining nominal rulers, royal figures in these systems pass all state functions over to the parliament or cabinet of ministers. However, the oldest and perhaps most successful world democracies – in France and America – are led by presidents possessing extensive authority.

The Institution of Presidency in Ukraine

In Ukraine, the institution of presidency forged a distinctive path. The democratic tradition was first set at the time of the Cossacks, whose egalitarian society voted for a hetman, or leader. The entrenchment of presidential democracy dates to the second decade of the 20th century. At this time, the Central Council passed 4 decrees (Universals), which were intended to form a democratic foundation for Ukrainian society. With its last Universal passed on January 22, 1918, the Central Council proclaimed full political independence of Ukraine from Russia. And on April 29, 1918 the Central Council elected Mykhailo Hrushevsky President of the Ukrainian People's Republic.

The post of the President of Ukraine was instituted on July 5, 1991 by decree of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, “On the Election of the President of the Ukrainian SSR.” On December 1, 1991, a national referendum took place at which the people, proclaiming the independence of Ukraine, also gave preference to the presidential form of government. On that day the first President of the new Ukrainian state, Leonid Kravchuk, was elected. In July 1994, as a result of a pre-term presidential election, Leonid Kuchma became head of the country. Kuchma was in power for ten years, winning a second term in the 1999 presidential elections.

1st President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk

Leonid KravchukElected President of Ukraine on  December 1, 1991 via the first direct presidential election. One of the three participants of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Pact, according to which the Soviet Union ceased to exist and the CIS  was created. Initiated the holding of the all-Ukraine referendum at which 90.32% of the Ukrainian citizens supported the Act proclaiming the independence of Ukraine.


2nd President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma

Leonid KuchmaElected President of Ukraine in July 1994, reelected in 1999. Initiated the course for market and economic reforms in Ukraine. The new Constitution of Ukraine was adopted and wide-ranging international treaties and agreements with Russia, Romania, Belarus, Poland, and NATO were signed during his two terms in office.


3rd President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko

Victor YushchenkoElected the President of Ukraine on December 26, 2004. Saw his main tasks in creating millions of new jobs in Ukraine, encouraging economic growth, providing for major increase of salaries and pensions, making quality education and medical care accessible, decreasing taxes, stimulating production, limiting government interference into citizens’ lives, creating independent courts, securing the rights of the common people. Proponent of the European and Euro-Atlantic direction of the country’s development.


4th President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych

Victor YushchenkoElected President of Ukraine on February 7, 2010. On February 25, 2010 Viktor Yanukovych swore an oath to the Ukrainian people as the President of Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych’s key priorities at the post of President of Ukraine are strengthening Ukraine as a democratic state governed by the supremacy of law, human rights and freedom of speech;    improving the system of public governance, fighting corruption and shadow economy; carrying out systematic reforms in all spheres of public life; building strong national economy through efficient model of investment and innovative development of Ukraine as a powerful state; sustainable economic growth aimed at higher employment rate, increasing wages and pensions; price and currency exchange stability; bringing in European standards of living and social benefits; radical improvement of quality and duration of life for restoring human potential of Ukraine; providing citizens with affordable housing, high-quality medical services; opening broad access of talented youth to new knowledge; contracting out the Armed Forces of Ukraine; ensuring transparency and good-neighborly relations in foreign politics, Ukraine’s non-block status; Ukraine’s European integration; strategic partnership with Russia, the United States and EU.


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