Ukraine's parliament OKs electoral reforms
Updated: 2004-12-08 21:16
KIEV, Ukraine - Ukraine's parliament adopted a package of electoral and
constitutional changes Wednesday in a compromise aimed at defusing the nation's
political crisis less than three weeks before a rerun of the disputed
vote came as a surprise after days of political maneuvering and massive street
protests. It suggested that opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko's camp had
determined that the prolonged unrest could ultimately weaken the country and his
own position ahead of the Dec. 26 repeat vote.
|Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (top) and deputies applaud after
signing the documents on constitutional changes during a parliamentary
session in Kiev, December 8, 2004. [Reuters]|
The package was approved in a 402-21 vote with 19 abstentions, drawing a
lukewarm endorsement from Yushchenko's supporters. Lawmakers stood and cheered
as President Leonid Kuchma signed the measure.
"Over the last 100 years, Ukraine has more than once suffered through a
crisis, but there was always enough common sense to find a way out and a
decision," Kuchma said.
After signing the text of the amendments and laws package in two blue
leather folders with a golden Ukrainian trident, Kuchma shook hands with
parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and deputy speakers. Lytvyn then firmly
clasped both folders and held them up to show to deputies.
"We didn't go beyond the limits and didn't fall over the precipice,"
Lytvyn said. "I hope that after this decision, the situation will stabilize in
As word spread of the decision, demonstrators ¡ª exhausted and haggard
after two weeks of blockades and demonstrations in Kiev's freezing streets ¡ª
"Some kind of compromise had to be reached," said Serhiy Vlasov, 44, who
wore a pro-Yushchenko orange band tied around his arm. "We couldn't drag this
Yushchenko had balked at the constitutional reforms, saying Kuchma allies
wanted to steal his potential victory by weakening the presidency.
A group of communist, socialist and pro-government factions in parliament
agreed to the electoral changes on condition they were voted together with the
The parliament returned after a brief recess and began to reshuffle the
Central Election Commission, which had declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych
the winner of the disputed Nov. 21 presidential runoff that was marred by
allegations of fraud, beginning Ukraine's crisis.
Yushchenko's supporters have virtually
camped out in the streets for two weeks. Last week, the Supreme Court
invalidated the runoff and ordered the new vote.
|Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (2R) stands with
fellow deputies before voting for constitutional changes during a
parliamentary session in Kiev, December 8, 2004.
Lawmakers voted to oust the election commission's chief, Serhiy Kivalov,
and a decision to nominate him was met with shouts of "Shame!" by Yushchenko
Yushchenko's camp had pushed strongly for electoral changes to close
loopholes for fraud ahead of the new vote, but they had resisted the
constitutional changes, which would transfer some presidential powers to
Kuchma said he had already accepted the resignation of the prosecutor
general, a key opposition demand.
"This is really a historic decision," said Bohdan Gubsky, who backed
Yanukovych, referring to the parliamentary passage of the legislation. "This
decision can end the crisis in the country."
Mykola Tomenko, a key Yushchenko ally and a lawmaker, said that the vote
"was a unique and an adequate solution."
"While Kuchma began his career (as president) with reinforcements of
presidential powers, Yushchenko will begin his (presidential) career with a
reduction of powers," Tomenko said.
In a separate development, the director of the Austrian hospital said the
cause of the illness that left Yushchenko's face pockmarked is still not known,
rejecting a report that doctors had come to a conclusion that the presidential
candidate was poisoned.
Yushchenko has accused the Ukrainian authorities of poisoning him during the
campaign leading up to last month's disputed presidential election, something
Doctors are still running tests to try to determine what caused the illness,
said Dr. Michael Zimpfer, the Rudolfinerhaus director, although he acknowledged
that poisoning was one of the possibilities being investigated.
Zimpfer rejected as "entirely untrue" a story in Wednesday editions of the
London daily, The Times, which quoted Dr. Nikolai Korpan ¡ª the Rudolfinerhaus
physician who oversaw Yushchenko's treatment ¡ª as saying that the candidate had
been poisoned and the intention was to kill the candidate.
Korpan also was quoted as denying making the remarks.
"The suspicion of poisoning has until now neither been confirmed or
excluded," Korpan said, according to the Austria Press Agency. He could not be
reached for further comment.
Still, The Times report had prompted one group of exhausted opposition
supporters from the central city of Zhitomyr to change its plans.
"We were packed and about to leave when a man told us about the article ...
now we will stay. Someone will pay dearly for what they have done to him
(Yushchenko)," said Evhen, who revealed only his first name.
Yushchenko supporters have pushed for Yanukovych's resignation, but Kuchma
has refused to fire him and instead, on Tuesday, approved his leave of absence
for the campaign period, naming a deputy premier as caretaker.
Yanukovych, who has been supported by the Kremlin, draws his strength from
the Russian-speaking, industrial east, which accounts for one-sixth of Ukraine's
population. Yushchenko is backed by the Ukrainian-speakers who want to end what
they say has been mass corruption during Kuchma's 10 years in power. Yushchenko
wants to take Ukraine into the European Union (news - web sites) and NATO (news
- web sites).
Several thousand Yushchenko supporters, growing impatient over the lack of
progress in passing legislation for the election, besieged Parliament Tuesday,
chanting "Parasites! Parasites!"
On Wednesday, police brought several buses of troops to secure the compound
and several surrounding blocks.
Throngs of opposition demonstrators pledged that they would maintain their
raucous, often noisy vigil until the legislation passed.
"We have grown tired physically, but spiritually we are longing for a
victory," said Olha Pokalchuk, 44.