Ukraine Parliament Votes for Sweeping Electoral Changes

By STEVEN LEE MYERS

New York Times

December 8, 2004

KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 8 - As part of a compromise to end Ukraine's political crisis stemming from the presidential runoff election, Parliament overwhelmingly voted today for sweeping political and constitutional changes.

In the biggest shift, legislators voted 402 to 21, with 19 abstentions, to give themselves the power to elect the prime minister, removing that choice from the president.

The agreement, worked out in closed-door negotiations, was voted on with little debate and after President Leonid D. Kuchma made a direct appeal in Parliament for the deal to be approved.

"Over the last 100 years, Ukraine has more than once suffered through a crisis, but there was always enough common sense to find a way out and a decision," Mr. Kuchma said after the vote.

Parliament also approved changes in the election laws that are intended to restrict some of the absentee balloting and other administrative abuses that were used to fix the runoff election on Nov. 21 between Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich and the opposition candidate, Viktor A. Yushchenko.

Many of Mr. Yushchenko's supporters were not in favor of such a compromise, and is an open question how much the vote will have frayed the opposition coalition that Mr. Yushchenko led.

The entire opposition bloc led by Yulia V. Tymoshenko, one of Mr. Yushchenko's chief supporters, voted against the deal.

After the vote, however, Mr. Yushchenko told reporters: "Today's decision opens the way for my victory in 18-20 Ukrainian regions. The main thing is today we managed to achieve what we had hoped for. This is a day of historic compromise."

The reaction among opposition supporters in Independence Square, which has been a scene of jubilant celebration for the past 15 days, was palpably quiet, with little evidence of enthusiasm for what is clearly a compromise.

Mr. Yushchenko gets some of what he wanted, with some of the measures he sought to avoid fraud in the second runoff still scheduled for Dec. 26, but President Kuchma gets the constitutional reform that he always wanted.

In essence, Mr. Kuchma has let the opposition candidate win what is essentially a lesser prize.

Mr. Yanukovich draws his strength from the Russian-speaking east, which accounts for one-sixth of Ukraine's population. Mr. Yushchenko, who leans toward the West, is backed by the Ukrainian-speakers, who want to end what they say has been mass corruption during Mr. Kuchma's 10 years in power.