As expected, President Leonid Kuchma vetoed a bill to triple the minimum wage. Less expectedly, he proposed letting the hryvnya float, abandoning the trading band within which it is theoretically supported by the Central Bank (aided by tight legal restrictions on foreign-currency transactions). The hryvnya has lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar in recent weeks, and reserves are close to exhaustion. The government will enter 1999 without a budget. Parliament, controlled by a left-wing coalition, rejected the government’s latest draft and no compromise is in sight.
Parliament and the government did agree on rules for presidential elections, to be held in late 1999. The election will follow a two-round system, with an absolute majority required to win in the first round and a minimum turnout of over 50 percent of registered voters.
One leading candidate seems certain to miss the race. Swiss investigators have arrived in Ukraine with a team of sharp-penciled sleuths to look into the machinations of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, now in custody in Geneva. Lazarenko, arrested while entering Switzerland from France on a Panamanian passport, is accused of unlawfully depositing embezzled money in Swiss banks. Ukrainian authorities say Lazarenko stole US$20 million–US$40 million, but they do not seek his extradition because as a member of parliament Lazarenko enjoys immunity in Ukraine. The investigation of Lazarenko could implicate other former and current Ukrainian political figures.