Verkhovna Rada moves swiftly on extending its mandate


A few hours after the Constitutional Court gave a stamp of approval to constitutional amendments on the dates of the next presidential and parliamentary elections, 305 deputies voted the draft law through its first reading.  Those who voted for it included 10 from Yulia Tymoshenko’s BYuT and 41 from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence.  The law envisages parliamentary elections for October 2012 and presidential in March 2015. It also clearly establishes a five-year mandate for parliament, as well as the President.

BYuT and Yatsenyuk’s Front for Change have been most firmly against the amendments.  Tymoshenko says that when the Constitutional Court on 1 October reinstated the 1996 Constitution, this reinstated the four-year term for National Deputies and meant that the next parliamentary elections needed to be held in spring 2011.

Today’s speedy action was no surprise after the haste with which only a few hours after the Head of the Party of the Regions announced yesterday in advance of the Constitutional Court’s judgment, a law had been tabled, passed and signed by the President enabling deputies to vote on constitutional amendments without being present.  The BBC, commenting on Friday’s vote, said that some voted only for themselves, others for two.

The mass protests throughout Ukraine over the Tax Code, disgruntlement over economic hardships and unpopularity of a number of policies clearly made later elections more desirable. It is also quite possible that many of the deputies who changed sides in March or later, enabling the formation of a quite different government, may fear the fate of the Socialist Party which failed to cross the vote threshold in the last parliamentary elections after a similar change.

Reuters reports that “Assuming, as seems likely, that the October 2012 election date is approved in a final reading next February, Yanukovych and his government will have won a vital breathing space. The Ukrainian economy, whose main exports of steel, grain and pharmaceuticals were hit hard by the crisis, may have made significant improvements by 2012 and regular IMF credit should still be coming on stream under the bail-out programme.

Parliament earlier received a nod from the Constitutional Court, which has leaned in favour of Yanukovych on other issues and ruled on Thursday in favour of a Party of the Regions motion proposing a year’s extension to parliament’s mandate. Under constitutional changes last month, the parliamentary term was set at four years -- which would have meant an election being held in spring 2011.

Analysts say the Party of the Regions  is likely now to press for changes to the voting system to improve its prospects further at the next election. These will probably include the introduction of a single-candidate system to run parallel with voting for party lists -- something which the political opposition says will weigh in the Regions’ favour in an election.
… Earlier this year, the court returned to the presidency powers lost to parliament in 2004, and Yanukovych now has the authority to appoint the prime minister and government members.

His party improved its grip on local power in elections last month for district councils and mayors which the opposition said were rigged. The United States led Western criticism of those elections, saying they did not "meet standards for openness and fairness...".

The opposition accuse Yanukovych of seeking to establish a "power vertical", similar to that in Russia, threatening Ukraine’s democratic progress. Many human rights groups say press freedoms are being increasingly violated in the country and pro-democracy non-government organisations (NGOs) are being harassed”.
From Ukrainian sources and Reuters

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