KIEV, Dec. 3 – Parliament on Wednesday rejected amendments to a bill governing the next presidential election, leaving intact legislation that was criticized by President Viktor Yushchenko, the Constitutional Court and European legal experts.
The amendments were submitted by Yushchenko to fix a number of clauses that the Constitutional Court had deemed “unconstitutional” by its ruling in October.
The legislation was originally approved by an alliance of lawmakers loyal to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the opposition Regions Party, giving these two groups greater de-facto powers, including in vote counting.
The legislation benefits Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Regions Party, but it’s a setback for candidates like Arseniy Yatseniuk, a former parliamentary speaker, who doesn’t have a large party behind him.
“The legislation does not guarantee transparent vote and will lead to abuses and greater tensions at the election,” Ivan Zayats, a lawmaker from the nationalist Ukrainian People’s Party, said.
“If one party thinks that it has a greater power for raider attacks than the other one, than you both are wrong,” Zayats said. “You will fight between yourselves, while voters will suffer.”
The developments suggest there may be political escalation and clashes ahead of the vote in January 2010 and may force Yushchenko to take action to block the controversial legislation.
The Constitutional Court reviewed the legislation in October and ruled that some of its clauses – at least five - directly contradict the constitution.
Although the court did not cancel the entire legislation, the ruling still raises questions over whether the legislation – part of which contradicts the constitution - can rule the next presidential election.
Yushchenko, who runs for re-election, has repeatedly vowed to ensure there will be transparent and fair election. He may try to use this argument to try to block the legislation, analysts said.
Yanukovych is far ahead of Tymoshenko in opinion polls with other candidates, including Yatseniuk and Yushchenko, trailing behind.
Any candidate going into the runoff vote with Yanukovych has a chance of winning the election, analysts said.
Meanwhile, Serhiy Mishchenko, a lawmaker from the Tymoshenko Bloc, said there is still enough time to amend the legislation before the presidential election due January 17, 2010.
“We still have at least a month and a half to approve the new bill,” Mishchenko said.
“We will submit our own amendments to prevent fraud and I think we will approve them before January 15.”
The Constitutional Court in the ruling on October 20 rejected five clauses of the legislation, including one that makes it more difficult to vote by Ukrainians living overseas.
The court also called for removing regional restrictions on those who can be included in local election commissions that are supposed to count ballots on the day of the vote.
This clause - unless changed - would staff most of election commissions in eastern regions with Yanukovych loyalists, while those in western regions with Tymoshenko supporters, potentially allowing sweeping fraud during the vote counting. (nr/ez)