KYIV -- Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has asked the Justice Ministry to evaluate evidence of illegal activities by the Ukrainian Communist Party and to consider banning it.
Turchynov said on May 18 that he had sent the request to the Justice Ministry and that he believed "a Ukrainian court will put an end to this matter." According to the presidential website, the country's security service has documented the party's role in the separatist movements in the east and determined that several party members have acted "to the detriment" of Ukraine's interests.
But Ukraine observers are wondering if this is the right moment to raise this question, in light of the ongoing instability in the eastern part of the country and the faltering efforts of the Kyiv government to bolster its legitimacy.
Turchynov, who is also speaker of parliament, got into a verbal tussle last week with Communist Party head Petro Symonenko, who accused Ukrainian security forces of firing on a police station in Mariupol during a speech in parliament.
That claim prompted Turchynov to accuse Symonenko of lying and to order that his microphone be turned off.
"Today the representatives of the national-fascist regime are trying to ban the Communist Party," Symonenko said in the wake of that incident, "because they understand that the country's territorial integrity is coming apart and they are the ones who are doing it."
'Reflecting Range Of Opinions'
The Communist Party holds 32 seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada. Its support in the 2012 parliamentary election rose to 13.2 percent, following a showing of just 5.4 percent in 2007. The majority of its backing comes from the southern and eastern regions that are currently in the grip of turmoil as the government battles pro-Russian separatists and militants.
With the collapse of the Party of Regions after former President Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February, the Communist Party is now the main voice in Kyiv of the restive regions of the east.
"The south and the east are losing practically their last political representation," says Ruslan Bortnik, director of the Institute of Analysis and Management Policy in Kyiv. "The Party of Regions doesn't represent them anymore, but the Communists, at least to some extent, reflect the whole range of opinions in those regions. Such a step, definitely, would prompt the Communists to initiate more radical forms of resistance. And the Communists have the necessary human and financial resources."
Bortnik adds that it would make more sense to let the people of Ukraine decide the fate of the Communist Party's fate at the ballot box in future elections.
Political scientist Ihor Reiterovych argues it is unfair to ban an entire party, elected into the legislature, for acts or statements by individuals.
"If the security organs have documented violations of existing laws, then individual deputies can be deprived of their mandates and prosecuted," he notes.
RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this story from Prague