KIEV, Aug. 9 – President Viktor Yushchenko on Thursday aimed his election campaign against a Parliament controlled by his political opponents, burnishing his anti-corruption credentials by calling for an end to immunity for MPs and a major reduction in benefits enjoyed by lawmakers.
Yushchenko, appearing on television, said the changes were required to reduce the benefits that are currently “unheard of in any European country.”
The message, aired by four major television networks in prime time, underscores the degree to which the presidential office is concerned with the issue ahead of the Sept. 30 snap election.
It also echoes calls made by Our Ukraine-People’s Self-defense, an alliance of pro-Western parties loyal to Yushchenko, which had already declared canceling the immunity the No. 1 campaign issue.
“Scrapping the lawmaker immunity status is an important, but only the first, step,” Yushchenko said. “I want to attract civil attention to another problem that puts Ukrainian lawmakers above the people. These are massive benefits the level of which is unheard of for any European nation.”
Ukrainian lawmakers, immediately after their elections, enjoy complete immunity from prosecution, making it virtually impossible to investigate and to bring to account a lawmaker that may have committed a crime.
Also, lawmakers immediately get a number of perks, such as a free transfer of an apartment in Kiev into their ownership, ability to stay free in the country’s best holiday resorts, free transportation and medical services among others.
The government spends about 500 million hryvnias, or about $100 million, annually to pay for the perks, while Ukrainians have often complained that lawmakers have been getting the massive benefits unfairly.
Yushchenko said the same amount of money would enough to clear the wage arrears in Ukraine, or to build 250 schools, or set up five new coal mines, or to increase by 20% pensions for the needy.
“The state must provide members of Parliament with conditions for work, but not for pleasure,” Yushchenko said. “Ukraine needs a Parliament of professionals that can be drafting just laws. Now those who seek to get there are the same people that try to hide from the law.”
By reviving anti-corruption slogans, Our Ukraine seeks to revitalize its image, which had been shattered over the past two years due to infighting with its pro-Western partner, the group of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The Regions Party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, recently announced that it will campaign on increasing social payments, apparently seeking to capitalize on Yushchenko’s previous initiative.
By running the anti-corruption and pro-social campaigns, Our Ukraine and the Regions Party avoid sensitive issues such as accession to NATO and an increased cooperation with Russia, the issues that had split Ukraine over the past two years. (tl/ez)