Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 130

Oleksandr Tkachenko was elected yesterday to the powerful post of chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) with 232 votes, barely above the 226 he needed in the 450-seat body. Most deputies of national-democratic and pro-presidential groups boycotted the voting. Observers seem to have lost count of how many rounds of voting were actually held for the chairmanship since the opening of new parliament on May 12. It is generally reckoned that yesterday’s round was more or less the twentieth. Tkachenko’s previous runs for the chairmanship fell short of target.

Tkachenko is a leader of the Peasant Party, allied with the Socialist Party in the Socialist-Peasant bloc. The bloc holds only thirty-five seats in the chamber. Tkachenko had the support of the 121-strong communist group, whose leader Petro Symonenko renounced his own candidacy in Tkachenko’s favor. Other leftist and antipresidential deputies helped put him over the top.

An agricultural specialist and supporter of the collective farm system, Tkachenko was first vice-chairman of the 1994-1998 parliament, which was chaired by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. The latter is considered very likely to figure in the new parliament’s presidium. The Socialist-Peasant bloc thus maintains a grip on the legislative leadership despite the bloc’s shrinkage in the last elections. President Leonid Kuchma’s arch-rival Moroz is a probable candidate in next year’s presidential election. Moroz will almost certainly use his bloc’s parliamentary redoubt against the president.

Tkachenko and President Leonid Kuchma made conciliatory statements immediately after yesterday’s voting. The statements had a ritualistic ring, however. The election of a leftist parliamentary chairman adds to the difficulties of the executive branch in promoting reforms. It narrows even further the window of opportunity for reforms, a window that may close altogether as the 1999 presidential election approaches. However, the parliamentary battle is not over yet. The legislature has yet to elect its vice-chairmen, its presidium and the chairmen of the twenty-two parliamentary commissions. Supporters of reforms and of Kuchma may still recoup some ground. (Ukrainian agencies, July 7)