Two months after an election criticized by Western observers as unfair, Ukraine's new parliament convened on Wednesday and the opening session was marred by a protest and a fist fight.
Despite a strong showing by three opposition parties, President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions secured a slim majority after October’s election.
The observers had a lot of complaints about the balloting: the imprisonment of the country’s top opposition leader, former premier Yulia Tymoshenko; the ruling party’s unfair access to state resources and the media; and the way the votes were counted.
The tallying, which lasted more than a week, involved brawls at many polling stations, the use of tear gas in one election district and the storming of an election commission by riot police. Five out of 450 parliament seats remain empty after allegations of fraud and ballot-stuffing led election officials to schedule new votes in five dispute election districts.
On Wednesday, lawmakers from Tymoshenko’s party showed up in parliament wearing black jerseys with her portrait on the front and the phrase “Freedom to Political Prisoners” written on the back.
A fist fight began when opposition lawmakers shouting “No to defectors!” attacked two legislators who had been elected on the opposition ticket but were suspected of preparing to defect to Yanukovych’s party.
As a result, Oleksandr Tabalov and Andrei Tabalov, a father and a son, were pushed from the hall where parliament was meeting and prevented from taking an official lawmaker’s oath. The opposition later insisted that without the oath the two men could not serve as lawmakers, and their status remained unclear.
Parliament was to resume work later Wednesday to elect a speaker and vote on the president’s nomination for prime minister. Yanukovych has nominated the current prime minister, his close ally Mykola Azarov, to the post.