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Official Immunity Turns Into Campaign Issue In Ukraine

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is proposing that all of the country's officials no longer enjoy immunity from prosecution (AFP) August 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In an apparent attempt to upstage his political rivals ahead of elections, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has proposed that all of the country's officials be stripped of their immunity from prosecution.

"Let's abolish all privileges -- privileges and immunity [from prosecution] for the president, the prime minister, members of the government, the Verkhovna Rada (parliament), people's deputies, and judges -- all of them," Yanukovych said at a cabinet meeting in Kyiv on August 15. "[Let's make them] equal before the law. I will talk today with the president, [and] I will propose to him to take such an action in the Verkhovna Rada in the beginning of September -- to abolish all privileges and immunity for all the officials."

It wasn't the first time the issue of immunity from prosecution and other perks officials enjoy has come up in recent weeks.

Ukraine is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on September 30 and Yanukovych's Party of Regions is currently leading in the polls.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports that the prime minister's main rivals -- President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc -- have been trying to turn immunity into a campaign issue. But thus far, they have only focused on eliminating such legal protection for members of parliament.

In a televised address on August 9, Yushchenko said Ukraine needs a parliament that "will draft just and fair laws" and that stripping lawmakers' immunity would "hit political corruption in Ukraine's bodies of power."

Yanukovych took that initiative one step further by proposing that Ukraine's parliament hold a special session in September, before elections, to pass a resolution stripping officials of their immunity.

Such a move would be largely symbolic. Actually making such changes would be more complicated than Yanukovych and other politicians are suggesting.

Speaking on August 15, Ukrainian Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych said immunity for the president, prime minister, and members of parliament is enshrined in the country's constitution and, therefore, cannot be changed by a mere resolution.

It would require amending the constitution, a process that could take several months.