Katya Gorchinskaya is the managing editor for investigative programming at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Ukraine Service). She served for seven years as the Kyiv Post's deputy chief editor from 2008-2015. Follow her on Twitter @kgorchinskaya.
Moderate majority establishes separate chamber after failing to oust leftist speaker
w has two, after the Verkhovna Rada last week split left and right, with both sides claiming to be the country's legitimate legislature.
The split came after a week of repeated attempts by parliament's pro-presidential majority to oust the Rada's hard-line speaker, Oleksandr Tkachenko.
After Tkachenko refused to recognize a vote on Jan. 21 to remove him, a majority of the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada - 242 deputies from 11 factions - then walked out of the session hall and held a parallel session.
The session took place in Ukraine House, formerly home to the Lenin museum, on Evropeyska Square, where the majority group of deputies were watched over by neatly dressed bodyguards wearing Dynamo Kyiv soccer club badges. The rest of parliament - four leftist factions and a group of non-affiliated deputies - continued to sit in the Rada building on Hrushevsky street.
As well as from right to left, the split went from top to bottom: Tkachenko, of the leftist Peasants Party, and his first deputy, Adam Martynyuk, a Communist, stayed with the minority, while the other parliament session was presided over by Deputy Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the Social Democratic Party (united).
The majority immediately voted to remove Tkachenko and Martynyuk from office and formed a commission to investigate alleged misuse of parliament funds by the ex-speaker.
To do that, they had to change a clause in the Rules of Procedure, which stipulated that two-thirds of the parliament deputies have to be registered in the session hall to remove the speaker and his deputy.
There was no electronic vote count system in Ukraine House, and the deputies voted by holding up their arms while four of their number scurried around counting the raised limbs.
The majority also confirmed Volodymyr Stelmakh as National Bank chairman, ordered Soviet-era symbols in the parliament building removed, approved a bill on limiting the immunity from prosecution of the president and lawmakers, and asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the latter bill's legitimacy.
'There is no legal pretext to say that this parliament session is not legitimate,' Medvedchuk told the gathering in Ukraine House.
Some, like rightist Rukh party leader Hennady Udovenko, even described the breakaway session as 'historic,' and proposed to proclaim Jan. 21, the day of the split, as Ukrainian Parliament Day. The proposal was ignored.
But many deputies, in both the majority and the minority, expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the gathering in Ukraine House, saying their resolutions could be considered invalid without Tkachenko's signature.
According to the Constitution, every bill parliament approves must be signed by the speaker and then the president to become law.
'This is a circus, none of it is legitimate,' said Oleskandr Yeliashkevych, a lawmaker from Hromada faction, who stayed with the minority. 'But the Constitutional Court will say it's alright, of course.'
The government gave the majority its seal of approval shortly afterwards, when the Justice Ministry said the splinter group's ouster of Tkachenko and the resolutions it had adopted were fully in compliance with the law.
President Leonid Kuchma also indicated his support for the majority Jan. 25, promising to sign the resolution appointing Stelmakh to head the central bank.
He also said he would not disband parliament - even if he wins a mandate to do so through a referendum to be held April 16 - if the majority agrees to cooperate with the government. 'Any such talk would be senseless,' Kuchma told reporters.
The leftist minority, meanwhile, accused the majority group of violating the Constitution. They then called for the dissolution of parliament, since their legislature lacked sufficient numbers to approve resolutions.
Tkachenko, whose refusal to accept his ouster was the catalyst for the Rada's split, called the majority's walkout a 'constitutional coup' and vowed to carry on.
But the speaker, who had Communist lawmakers put on guard at his office this week, already appears to be fighting a losing battle.
On the orders of Medvedchuk, the majority group's de facto leader, Tkachenko has been deprived of his parliament bodyguards, and the telephone lines to his office have been disconnected, lawmakers acting as his bodyguard said.
But Tkachenko was still driving his parliament-owned Mercedes car, and continued to work in the speaker's office as the Post went to press, despite the Justice Ministry's confirmation of the legality of his ouster. It was not clear what the majority's next move against him would be.
And a defiant Tkachenko said on Jan. 25 that he would still preside over the next parliament's session.
The two sides will take a short break before resuming hostilities.
Both the majority and minority sessions adjourned for scheduled recess until Feb. 1, and both groups have vowed to re-convene and continue to work separately.
But before adjourning, the majority initiated a tense debate this week over choosing a new speaker, and nominated Medvedchuk and former speaker Ivan Pliushch for the vote, which is set to take place at the beginning of the new session.
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