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Ukrainian Lawmakers Decline To Address Zelenskiy's Proposals At Emergency Session

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's representative in parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, attends an emergency session of parliament in Kyiv on May 22.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's representative in parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, attends an emergency session of parliament in Kyiv on May 22.

KYIV -- Ukraine's parliament has defied new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy a day after he issued a decree to disband it and hold snap elections in July, declining to discuss his proposed changes in electoral legislation.

At an emergency session on May 22, lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada voted against debating two amendments proposed by Zelenskiy, underscoring the challenge he faces early in a five-year term that began with his inauguration two days before.

After announcing in his May 20 inaugural address that he would dissolve parliament, Zelenskiy made it official with a decree the following day and declared that a new parliament will be elected on July 21.

He has called for that election to be held based entirely on voting for parties, rather than single candidates, arguing that the current system in which some seats are filled in contests between individual candidates favors corruption.

But at the emergency session, only 92 lawmakers voted to discuss that proposal -- far short of the majority, 226 votes, needed to put it on the agenda.

Lawmakers also voted not to put another proposal from Zelenskiy, which would change the rules for state purchases during election campaigns, on the agenda.

The votes could point to a standoff between lawmakers and Zelenskiy, a political novice who has no formal support in the current parliament. The next parliament session is scheduled for May 28.

In a Facebook post on May 21, Rada speaker Andriy Parubiy alleged that Zelenskiy's decree to dissolve parliament and call snap elections was illegal. He said lawmakers would appeal to the Constitutional Court to overturn it.

"It is sad and alarming that the guarantor of the constitution starts his work in the post with a gross violation of the constitution," Parubiy said.

A comedian and actor with no previous political experience, Zelenskiy has taken the helm of a country of 44 million that faces deep-seated corruption, economic challenges, and a simmering war in eastern Ukraine.

On May 21, Zelenskiy appointed Lieutenant General Ruslan Khomchak as chief of the General Staff of the armed forces, which are fighting Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014.

He also picked his legal adviser, Andriy Bohdan, as head of the presidential administration -- his chief of staff.

Bohdan has worked as a lawyer for tycoon Ihor Kolomoyskiy, adding to questions about the extent of ties between the new president and the billionaire who owns the TV station that has hosted Zelenskiy's comedy programs and his hit sitcom Servant Of The People.

Tetyana Kozachenko, head of the public council on lustration issues at the Justice Ministry, contended in a Facebook post on May 22 that Zelenskiy's appointment of Bohdan violates legislation on lustration because he held government posts under ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych. She said the law prohibits people who served under Yanukovych from holding government posts for 10 years.

Meanwhile, Zelenskiy canceled the appointment of Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal as deputy chief of staff on May 22, one day after he named her to the position. Some media reports said that Zerkal declined to take the job, and she said she would explain the situation later.

Zelenskiy defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko by a wide margin in a presidential runoff vote on April 21.

The 41-year-old ran for president without the support of a political party and has no formal backing in parliament now.

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