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Ukrainian Parliament Cancels Immunity For Lawmakers


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gives a thumbs up during a parliamentary session in Kyiv on September 3.

KYIV -- Ukraine's parliament has voted in favor of cancelling immunity from prosecution for lawmakers, a step toward President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's pledge to stamp out corruption.

In a vote on September 3, 373 deputies voted for the bill, while three abstained and 28 were absent.

Zelenskiy, who attended the parliamentary session, downplayed fears that the move would expose lawmakers to persecution by those in power, saying before the vote that the cancellation of immunity would not mean that lawmakers would be responsible for political decisions.

"I would like to dispel all the myths and political manipulations. The parliament members will preserve indemnity. They will not be responsible for their political decisions, voting or any political or public statements," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comedian-turned-politician who has pledged to "break the system" in Ukrainian politics, won a presidential election on April 21. Three months later his Servant of the People party took a solid majority of 254 parliamentary seats in the 450-seat legislature, an unprecedented mandate that has set Zelenskiy up to carry out his campaign pledges.

Still, many Western analysts and even supporters of Zelenskiy have been waiting to see whether his parliamentary allies can push through key reforms to tackle problems like the country's rickety gas and electricity infrastructure, the nascent state of anti-corruption laws and agencies, and an oligarchic system that has all but dictated policymaking for years.

"The abolition of parliamentary immunity must come with reforms that will guarantee the independence of prosecutors and courts, which has historically been a problem in Ukraine," Brian Whitmore of the European Policy Center said.

"So undoing is the right first step, but it should not be the last step. Law enforcement agencies should not be involved in politics, law enforcement agencies should be solely concerned with law enforcement," he added.

Ukraine ranked 120th in Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public-sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople.

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