Ukraine’s parliament fails to vote on electoral reforms
Associated Press Writer
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Parliament adjourned a raucous session Tuesday without voting on amendments to secure a fair rerun of the disputed presidential vote later this month, and throngs of opposition protesters appeared to be growing restless with the prolonged political crisis.
Supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko say the changes are necessary to close loopholes for fraud that marred the Nov. 21 presidential runoff. Evidence of systematic vote-rigging prompted the Supreme Court to cancel the victory of Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and order the revote on Dec. 26.
Also Tuesday, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma approved a leave of absence for Yanukovych so he could conduct his presidential campaign, and named First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to be temporarily in charge of the Cabinet, the presidential office said in a statement. Yanukovych announced Monday he was taking the leave.
A loose coalition of communists, socialists and pro-government factions in parliament had insisted that the electoral changes should be passed at the same time as the constitutional reforms to trim presidential powers. Yushchenko has balked at the changes, saying that Kuchma allies fear his victory and want to curtail his authority.
Rival parliamentary factions reached a tentative agreement Monday to vote on the legal changes all at once, but the deal collapsed later after several hours of European-sponsored talks between Kuchma and both rivals.
A somber Kuchma said the parties had failed to agree on the constitutional reform and on the opposition’s insistence on Yanukovych resigning as premier.
The compromise had included opposition demands to delay implementation of the constitutional changes until after spring 2006 parliamentary elections, which Yushchenko’s allies hope to win.
A pro-Yushchenko majority in parliament would render many of the constitutional changes to hand more power to parliament less restrictive to him.
But on Tuesday, Yushchenko’s supporters again complained against the simultaneous vote.
“We won’t vote for any package deals,” said Yushchenko’s fiery ally Yulia Tymoshenko.
Yushchenko’s opponents accused him of bad faith during a rowdy parliament session that featured angry shouts and sarcastic speeches until parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn adjourned it until Wednesday.
A similar compromise deal between Yushchenko’s supporters and pro-government lawmakers fell apart Saturday, one day after the Supreme Court’s momentous ruling.
Lytvyn said Kuchma would attend the parliament session and sign bills into law if a compromise is reached.
In a communique released after six-hour talks with European sponsors that dragged long after midnight, Kuchma pledged to reshuffle the Central Election Commission – a key opposition demand. The statement signed by both rivals also emphasized the need to pass electoral changes to ensure “a fair and transparent vote.”
On Tuesday, Yushchenko backers, now in their third straight week of protests in a sprawling tent camp in downtown Kiev, lashed out at what they described as “Kuchma’s plots.”
“We have been peaceful so far,” said a protester who identified himself only as Vyacheslav. If Yushchenko wants to force Kuchma to concede defeat in his attempt to hand power to his chosen successor, “we are ready,” Vyacheslav said – a tacit threat that the demonstrations could turn violent.
At a barricade blocking the entrance to the Cabinet building, Yushchenko’s orange-clad supporters were determined not to let “a single bureaucrat enter,” said Adam Yanakievych from Kiev.
Meanwhile, pro-government lawmaker Stepan Havrysh became the latest senior official to defect from the Yanukovych camp, telling Kiev’s Stolytchniye Novosty weekly he would not participate in the election campaign. Havrysh was Yanukovych’s representative on the Central Election Commission.
Yanukovych’s campaign manager Serhiy Tyhypko also resigned last week. Yanukovych has appointed lawmaker Taras Chornovil as the new campaign manager.
Mikhail Pogrebinsky, an Kuchma-allied analyst with the Institute of Political and Conflict Studies, said he expected the president to cave in to the opposition’s demand to fire Yanukovych.
“Kuchma is coming under enormous pressure, and he has been slowly taking a step back every day,” Pogrebinsky said. “I fully expect this next concession today.”
In his campaign speech Tuesday, Yanukovych sought to distance himself from Kuchma, apparently trying to shed an image that he is Kuchma’s puppet. If Kuchma fires him, that could actually help Yanukovych’s desperate effort to expand his support base.
Nestor Shufrych, a pro-Yanukovych lawmaker, said the issue was moot because Yanukovych had already taken a leave of absence to campaign. The opposition wants Yanukovych fired simply to “take revenge,” he said.