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Ukraine's President Postpones Parliamentary Elections

Yushchenko's April 2 decree has left Ukrainian politics at a virtual standstill (epa) April 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Viktor Yushchenko, the embattled president of Ukraine, has offered a compromise to his political opponents, postponing by a month the date of early parliamentary elections.

It has been less than a month since Yushchenko threw down the gauntlet to Ukraine's ruling coalition.

On April 2, the Ukrainian president issued a decree ordering the dissolution of parliament and setting early elections for May 27.

Already, however, he is softening his stance.

"Under the fifth chapter of the constitution, I'm signing a decree that sets early elections for the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on June 24, 2007 so that early parliamentary elections can be properly held and to bring about a democratic political solution for the country's problems," Yushchenko said in a evening television address on April 25.

"My step reflects a considered attitude toward the development of the situation and constructive political will. Ukraine needs change."

Olive Branch

The postponement appears to be a gesture of compromise toward his political opponents, the ruling parliamentary coalition and government dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Yushchenko's supporters, disappointed by his failure to keep Ukraine on a Western path, have been far less visible than during the massive street protests of the Orange Revolution.

The two sides have been frozen in deadlock since Yushchenko's decree, which he issued after the defection, under dubious circumstances, of 11 opposition lawmakers to Yanukovych's camp.

Yushchenko said the switchover was a violation of the Ukrainian Constitution, and issued his dissolution decree. Coalition lawmakers, in turn, called the order unconstitutional and refused to comply.

The result has left Ukraine in limbo, with a nonfunctional parliament, a constitutional review, and desultory public protests of every political stripe.

In his address, Yushchenko defend his actions as constitutional and legitimate.

"It's already been a month since the coalition in the Verkhovna Rada was reformatted in violation of the constitution," he said. "From now on, the president of Ukraine can fully implement his right to dissolve the parliament on the grounds of the 90th chapter of the Ukrainian Constitution.

"I'm sure of the legal right and political necessity of such a decision. I'm convinced that Ukrainian society, responsible Ukrainian politicians, and the nation understand this decision."

Support Dwindling

Yushchenko's position has grown substantially weaker since his days as the hero of the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych, whose Party of Regions finished first in the March 2006 parliamentary vote, is likely to gain an even stronger hand in the Verkhovna Rada if and when early elections are held.

His public supporters at home, disappointed by his failure to keep Ukraine on a path toward Western integration, have been far less visible than during the massive street protests of the 2004 revolution.

His Western backers, likewise, have largely remained on the sidelines, saying it is up to the country's legitimately elected leaders to reach a solution.

But Ukraine's weak institutions and lack of democratic traditions have allowed even legitimate officials to use loopholes and lack of enforcement to interpret the laws as they see fit.

It took days for the Constitutional Court to gather its forces to consider the issue. And the Central Election Commission has repeatedly failed to meet quorum in order to avoid a decision on financing the early vote.

The two camps are still far apart (RFE/RL file photo)

Yushchenko said that failure, plus the ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court that the terms for early elections had not been met, forced his decision to postpone the elections.

These issues, he said, "create the serious difficulties and, as a matter of fact, make it impossible to hold the election for the Verkhovna Rada on May 27, 2007.... I have delivered to the prime minister my deep unhappiness about the factual refusal of Cabinet of Ministries to finance your desire. This is the action which is connected with criminal law."

PM Unimpressed?

The prime minister so far has offered no public reaction to Yushchenko's decision. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted his chief of staff, Sergei Levochkin, as saying that the new ruling is as unconstitutional as the first.

Yanukovych, whose Party of Regions finished first in the March 2006 parliamentary vote, is likely to gain an even stronger hand in the Verkhovna Rada if and when early elections are held.

Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, by contrast, is likely to fare poorly. The president nonetheless called on the people of Ukraine to take control of the country's political future and participating in the vote.

"I want to state with all firmness that the early parliamentary elections in Ukraine will take place," he said. "It's the only way to demonstrate responsibility before everyone to Ukrainian politicians, because you are the authority, you are the real force, you are the main manager of the country. You form the source of the authority and you form the authority itself."

Ukrainian Voices

Ukrainian Voices

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service asked people on the streets of Kyiv on April 10 what they think of the rule of law in Ukraine.

Leonid, a construction worker:
"I have taken a businessman for whom I worked to court. And I managed to defend my rights under the current government."

Alla Mykhaylovna, pensioner:
"So far, we are defending our rights in the squares. However, everything will be normal in the future and we will be able to defend our rights legally, and human rights will not be violated."

Oleksandr, construction worker:
"Of course it is impossible [to rely on the law]. The laws are not good. You can buy everything here. You can use a law any way you like."

Kateryna, a student:
"It is 50-50. It is not possible for everyone to defend their rights according to possibilities the laws provide. It often happens that money determines the result. On the other hand, there are more and more people who manage to prove they are right under the existing laws."


RFE/RL's coverage of Ukraine. The Ukrainian-language website of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

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