KIEV, July 30 – Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn survived a confidence vote on Monday, but pro-government lawmakers said now he would have to sign a controversial language bill or otherwise face criminal prosecution.
The bill, which dramatically elevates the use of Russian language in Ukraine, was approved on July 3 and is seen as a centerpiece of the ruling Regions Party’s election campaign ahead of the October 28 parliamentary vote.
Lytvyn, who said the bill would split Ukraine and cause political turbulence, has refused to sign it and offered his resignation on July 4.
The move triggered a political crisis that could effectively paralyze the work of the legislature for the next three months.
But lawmakers, led by the Regions Party, at an emergency session on Monday refused to accept the resignation and instead approved the vote of confidence, allowing Lytvyn to stay as the speaker.
The lawmakers also rejected four amendments that could weaken the controversial bill, leaving Lytvyn no other option but to sign it, Oleksandr Yefremov, the leader of the Regions Party in Parliament, said.
“Now, the speaker is obliged to sign the bill,” Yefremov said. “If he doesn’t sign it, he would violate the law, and thus would be accountable as an official who had broken the law.”
In a country where two main opposition leaders have been sentenced to many years in jail for alleged abuse of office – although many see the sentences as a political vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovych - Yefremov’s comment may be a serious warning to Lytvyn.
Lytvyn has to sign the bill so that it can reach the office of the president, while Yanukovych’s signature within the next two weeks is required to put the legislation in effect.
Lytvyn has earlier said he would not sign the bill, but he had made no comments on Monday.
The bill is fiercely opposed by opposition groups amid fears it would widen the split between Ukrainian regions and weaken the country, increasing Russia’s influence over parts of Ukraine.
The bill would almost automatically make the Russian language the second state language in Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Odessa, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Chernihiv and some other Ukrainian regions.
Meanwhile, lawmakers also refused to accept resignation of Mykola Tomenko, a deputy speaker of Parliament, who had also submitted his resignation in protest of the controversial bill. Tomenko is a member of the largest opposition Batkivshchyna party.
“If he [Tomenko] insists on his resignation, Parliament may get back to this issue in September,” Yefremov said.
Parliament, which is currently on a summer recess, got together for the emergency session on Monday, and is now due to resume regular sessions in early September. (tl/ez)