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END NOTE: 'CIVIC FORUM' BACKS CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM IN UKRAINE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILL ON LOCAL ELECTIONS. The Verkhovna Rada endorsed a bill on 6 April prescribing a majority system for rural councils and a proportional party-list system for all other councils in Ukrainian local elections, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported (see End Note below). The bill, which received 266 votes in the 450-member chamber, stipulates that deputies to rural councils must be elected under a majority system. Councilors to all other, higher-tier bodies of self-government, including the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, will be elected under a fully proportional, party-list system with a 3 percent threshold for representation. Earlier the same day, the opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, along with some deputies from the pro-government coalition, made three unsuccessful attempts to vote down the bill. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION THREATENS STREET PROTESTS AGAINST CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS. Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc have said they will lead demonstrations in Kyiv the day the Verkhovna Rada holds its final vote on the hotly contested constitutional-reform bill that was preliminarily adopted in December and amended in February, Interfax reported on 6 April. It is unclear when the Ukrainian parliament will vote on the reforms. "The essence of these constitutional amendments is directed not toward forming a European model of democracy but toward passing some powers of the next president to the parliamentary majority," Our Ukraine lawmaker Yuriy Kostenko told journalists. "We are trying to respond," Yuliya Tymoshenko said. "We will use all possible levers of influence [to prevent the passage of the bill]." Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said on 7 April that his parliamentary caucus might demand a vote on the pullout of the Ukrainian contingent from Iraq before voting on the constitutional-reform bill. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry meanwhile announced that an explosion in Iraq killed one Ukrainian soldier and wounded five others on 6 April. JM

MOLDOVAN REINTEGRATION MINISTER CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF TRANSDNIESTER TALKS. Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova on 6 April called on the three international mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) to act without delay in order to bring about the resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, Infotag reported. Sova said delaying the talks causes extreme concern in Moldova. He said that following the 24-25 February Belgrade meeting of the mediators, the negotiations were supposed to be renewed by the end of March. MS


More than 3,000 representatives of Ukrainian civic organizations gathered for an "all-Ukrainian civic forum" in Kyiv on 2 April to express support for the government-backed constitutional reforms being debated in the Ukrainian legislature. Participants in the forum called on Ukrainian lawmakers to pass as soon as possible the constitutional-reform bill that was preliminarily approved in December and amended in February. "We are sure that [the constitutional reform] will to a large extent boost the prospects of the socioeconomic development of our state, the establishment of civic society, the observance of human rights, and Ukraine's role and place in the European community," the forum said in a special resolution. The forum was formally initiated by the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers.

"[Such forums] are convened by the authorities, therefore they are not representative and do not reflect the interests of the citizens," UNIAN quoted lawmaker Ivan Zayets of the opposition Our Ukraine as saying on 1 April. "The authorities are following a tested path to create the impression that their initiatives are supported by the people." The same day, Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko quoted a March poll showing that just 44 percent of Ukrainians are familiar with the constitutional-reform bill currently under debate in the legislature. According to the same poll, 58 percent of Ukrainians believe constitutional reforms should be carried out by the president who emerges from this year's election.

The forum was addressed by President Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma said the proposed amendments to the constitution are intended to implement a "radical dismantling of the nomenklatura [and] administrative-and-command-system regime," which, in the president's opinion, "has not been subject to any essential changes since 1991 [the collapse of the USSR]." "Owing to a large-scale privatization process, Ukraine has seen the formation of powerful industrial-financial groups," Kuchma said. "Naturally, they want and seek to influence political processes. But life demands that the authorities and business are separated as much as possible. The political reform will contribute exactly to this goal."

Kuchma criticized opposition to the reforms as "horrifyingly irrational and irresponsible," saying in apparent allusion to Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc that some opposition groups are centered around "offended former prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, ministers, and their business entourage." "Initially, they write down provisions about the need for reforms in their programs but subsequently oppose their implementation categorically. And when the matter reaches parliamentary debates, they break the [electronic voting system] and cause chaos in the supreme legislative body.... The last word of our right-wing opposition is as follows: Give us power, then we will possibly set ourselves to reforming it," Kuchma said, satirizing Our Ukraine's and the Yuliya Yushchenko Bloc's approach to the constitutional reform.

President Kuchma told the forum that he has signed into law a bill mandating a fully proportional system of parliamentary elections, which was passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 25 March. The adoption of this bill was a sine qua non for the Communist Party and the Socialist Party to support the constitutional-reform bill along with the pro-government forces. But he found it necessary to add that "parliamentary deputies have plenty of time to improve this law before the 2006 election campaign." Many Ukrainian observers saw in this pronouncement a well-considered attempt by Kuchma to appease those parliamentary deputies elected under the first-past-the-post system in 2002 who are reportedly unhappy with this law, fearing that they may not be re-elected in 2006 under an all-proportional, party-list system.

In its resolution the forum also appealed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to support the constitutional reform in Ukraine in order to help the country achieve "European standards." In January, PACE adopted a resolution threatening to suspend Ukraine's membership in the Council of Europe if Ukrainian authorities continue to push through the current political reform by unconstitutional means or fail to guarantee a free and fair presidential ballot in October. The resolution said the process of introducing constitutional amendments initiated in Ukraine last year contradicts both the Ukrainian Constitution and the Verkhovna Rada's rules of procedure. In February, the Verkhovna Rada reacted to PACE's main objection to the planned constitutional reform -- the provision mandating the election of president by parliament in 2004 -- by deleting it from the constitutional-reform draft. PACE rapporteur on Ukraine Hanne Severinsen, although reportedly invited to the 2 April forum, did not take part in it.

The 2 April forum in support of the constitutional reforms, even if its importance will boil down to nothing more than a propagandistic effect, has doubtless testified that President Kuchma remains in full control of the political situation in the country and that the authorities are still in command of enormous administrative and financial resources to shape public attitudes they need. It seems that it is Kuchma alone who will decide what step should be taken by the pro-government camp next in the presidential-election game. And it also seems that this decision will be listened to and obeyed by the executive branch without hesitation, even if it were about Kuchma's seeking the presidential post for the third time in a row.