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Ukraine Lawmakers To Discuss Changes To Electoral Law In Emergency Session

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada and parliamentary factions on May 21

KYIV – Ukraine’s parliament is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session on May 22, two days after the inauguration of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The session was called by Andriy Parubiy, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, at Zelenskiy’s request.

Earlier on May 21, Zelenskiy issued a decree to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada and set snap parliamentary elections for July 21.

Parubiy said in a Facebook post on May 21 that Zelenskiy's decree was illegal.

"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.

Parubiy added that lawmakers will launch an appeal at the Constitutional Court in a bid to overturn Zelenskiy’s decree.

Zelenskiy said the emergency parliament session, scheduled to start at noon local time will discuss amendments to the electoral law.

Zelenskiy has called for electing the next chamber entirely on party lists, arguing that the current system in which part of parliament is elected in single ballot races favors corruption.

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 deadly war in eastern Ukraine.

On May 21, Zelenskiy appointed a new chief of the General Staff to head the Ukrainian military through conflict with Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and picked his legal adviser Andriy Bohdan as his chief of staff.

Bohdan has also 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 currently has no formal backing in parliament.

Parliamentary Elections

After holding talks with Parubiy and leaders of parliamentary factions at the presidential administration building in Kyiv, Zelenskiy said that the main reason behind his decision to dissolve parliament and call early elections was "citizens' very low [level of] trust" in that institution.

Zelenskiy said that as president and "guarantor of the constitution," he "must safeguard the rights of Ukraine's citizens," and added that the "judicial reason" for the dissolution of parliament is that "there has been no coalition since 2016."

The ruling European Ukraine coalition was established in November 2014 and consisted of the party of Zelenskiy’s predecessor President Petro Poroshenko, Poroshenko's Bloc, the People's Front, Samopomich (Self-Reliance), Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), and the Radical Party. The latter three political parties quit the coalition in 2015-2016.

The People's Front announced its decision to quit the coalition last week, after which Parubiy declared that the coalition was dissolved.

Under the constitution, new parliamentary elections must be held within two months of the decree dissolving parliament.

The next parliamentary elections had been set for late October. As he starts a five-year term, early elections are a chance for Zelenskiy to strengthen his position and sideline allies of Poroshenko.

Opponents have questioned whether Zelenskiy has the authority to disband parliament under the constitution because of the timing of his inauguration, but there has been little sign of vocal resistance to his plan since he announced it on May 20.

Popular Referendum?

Hours after Zelenskiy was sworn in, Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman said he would resign on May 22 and suggested that he will run in the snap elections.

"I proposed to the president and the parliament that we together form a new agenda and very quickly begin to make decisions that would make Ukraine stronger," Hroysman said. "The president has chosen a different path."

Zelenskiy promoted Lieutenant General Ruslan Khomchak to be the chief of Ukraine's General Staff on May 21 after dismissing Viktor Muzhenko, according to a presidential decree.

The 51-year-old Khomchak previously served as the chief of staff of the military's ground forces.

Muzhenko had served as the head of the country’s armed forces since 2014.

The war in the eastern region known as the Donbas has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014 and Russia continues to control Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula it occupied and seized the same year.

The new chief of the Zelenskiy’s administration said on May 21 that Ukraine may submit any preliminary peace deal agreed with Russia to the Ukrainian people for a referendum.

"On the question of reaching peace agreements with Russia, we are considering holding a popular referendum," Andriy Bohdan told the 112 TV news channel.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said that President Vladimir Putin discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call.

The call touched upon the change of leadership in Kyiv after Zelenskiy’s election.

Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia have held four-way consultations in a bid to find a solution to the conflict.

With reporting by AP
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