Ukraine's parliament has approved the first reading of legislation creating an anticorruption court demanded by protest groups and the country’s external backers, although critics charge the effort does not go far enough.
The draft law, which was presented by President Petro Poroshenko in December, won the support of 282 of the 450 deputies on March 1 in the parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada.
In an apparent response to demands from Western allies as well as protesters camped outside parliament in Kyiv, Poroshenko last year vowed to push for legislation creating an anticorruption court.
However, some reformers within Ukraine and allies in Europe have expressed concerns the legislation does not meet standards set by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, a group of independent experts in constitutional law, and the requirements of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In January, the IMF said that "several provisions [of the bill] are not consistent with the commitments of the authorities."
"In its current form…we would not be able to support the draft law," the IMF added.
Critics have charged that the current legislation does not ensure the selection of independent anticorruption judges.
Ahead of the vote, Verkhovna Rada speaker Andriy Parubiy called on the lawmakers to support the proposed law, saying its text could be amended before the second and final reading.
Maksym Burbak, the head of the People's Front faction in the ruling coalition, said that "between the first and second readings, we will take into account all recommendations of the Venice Commission."
After the vote in parliament, Poroshenko said in a televised speech that a final reading of the law “should be definitively approved in the spring.”
"I call on MPs not to delay adoption as a whole," the president wrote on his Facebook page.
Leaders of the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have demanded anticorruption reforms in Ukraine, which last year ranked 130th out of 180 countries rated by Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.
On February 28, the European Commission moved closer to approving a 1 billion euro ($1.22 billion) financial package to Ukraine, although officials said they were awaiting further signs by Kyiv that the reform process remained on track before the funds would be delivered.
The IMF has called the establishment of an anticorruption court a "benchmark" of Ukraine's progress toward Western legal standards and has said it would help ease the release of its loans in the future.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP