Parliament rivalry mounts
Feb. 3, 2000, 1 a.m. | Ukraine
— by Peter Byrne
Ukraine's parliament split in two as pro-presidential deputies took over the legislature.
A week of negotiations between the rival camps in Ukraine's parliament has achieved nothing but deeper division.
The deputies, split into a pro-government majority and a leftist minority, reconvened separately on Feb. 1 after a week-long scheduled recess.
Each of the rival parliaments had its own press service, cafeteria and staff.
The majority lawmakers, who convened in Ukraine House on Khreshchatyk, initiated the split on Jan. 20. On that day, they walked out of the Verkhovna Rada building in protest at hard-line speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's refusal to accept the result of a vote dismissing him from his post.
With 259 out of the Rada's 450 lawmakers under their banner, the majority on Feb. 1 elected a new speaker, his two deputies, and replaced the heads of all the parliamentary committees.
The majority claimed its actions were "in line with the constitution." Although constitutional experts have yet to rule on the legal status of the majority grouping's resolutions, the Justice Ministry already has recognized them as legitimate.
The newly elected speaker, Ivan Pliushch, greeted a cheering crowd of several hundred people outside Ukraine House and delivered an impromptu 15-minute speech.
"The majority has been formed to stop confrontation and to support the course of reforms, for which 16 million our citizens voted," said Pliushch, referring to the number of Ukrainians who voted to re-elect Leonid Kuchma president last November.
Later in the day Kuchma met with Pliushch, who was also the first speaker of Ukraine's post-Soviet parliament, new first deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, who was also a deputy speaker in the pre-split Rada, and deputy speaker Stepan Havrysh. Kuchma described the majority's session an "outstanding event."
Sitting with the majority parliament leadership, Kuchma voiced cautious hope that the latest developments in the legislature would put a stop to his six-year war with the Rada.
"I hope now our citizens will see that we finally have reached concord for the first time in the past six years, maybe," Kuchma said in televised comments.
But meanwhile in the Verkhovna Rada building, Tkachenko gave no indication that he would bow to the majority's demand and step down.
Speaking before the 157 leftist deputies in the Rada, Tkachenko blasted the majority for grossly violating the law by holding an alternative session to dismiss him. "I have never clung to this lofty chair - I was elected to it. And I am prepared to give it up - if I am dismissed in strict accordance with the Constitution," Tkachenko said.
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz accused Kuchma of provoking the split in order to further discredit the Rada ahead of an April 16 nationwide referendum. In the referendum, the public will be asked if they express no confidence in parliament and if they would support amendments to the Constitution giving the president more authority to disband the legislature.
The leftists saw the president's hand behind the crisis in parliament.
"The instigators of the confrontation between the majority and minority are the president and the people close to him," Moroz said.
Fiery leftist Natalia Vitrenko, leader of the Rada's Progressive Socialist Party faction, went on hunger strike in protest at the actions of the majority.
As the minority session came to a close, she and some of her faction members tied white bandanas around their heads, announcing rather dramatically that they would remain in the session hall to prevent it from being "captured" by the majority.
Over in Ukraine house, the majority deputies voted to return to the Rada building on Feb. 8. If they do, they are certain to meet stiff resistance from the leftists.
Meanwhile, deputies from both sides voiced doubts over the legitimacy of either parliament session, and particularly the resolutions passed by the majority.
Some deputies - mostly leftists - called for parliament to dissolve in order to end the legal stalemate. Others hoped the Constitutional Court would bring an end to the crisis.
"I am sure that the Constitutional Court will rule as illegal the decisions of both the majority and the minority," said lawmaker and well-know lawyer Serhy Holovaty. "Parliament will be disbanded and Ukraine will have an early election - or no election at all."