Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 8

Answering questions from people on the street during his visit to the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that he would call a referendum to abolish parliamentary immunity if the legislature refuses to lift the immunity from “certain deputies.” Kuchma obviously referred to former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who in December was released on bail from custody in Geneva, where he is charged with money-laundering. Lazarenko is suspected of large-scale embezzlement in Ukraine as well, but remains out of reach for the Ukrainian prosecution due to his deputy immunity (see the Monitor, December 4, 7, 14, 23).

Kuchma also warned the heads of local councils that certain people’s deputies would approach them, asking them to oppose the referendum (Ukrainian agencies and television, January 10). This prediction proved accurate: On January 12 the leftist Speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko called on parliament members to “work accordingly with heads of local councils”–with whose help the executive intends to prepare the referendum–to oppose it. Tkachenko warned that canceling the immunity would mean amending the constitution, which only the legislature has the right to do (STV, Ukrainian agencies, January 12; Den, January 13). Left-wingers and Lazarenko’s Hromada faction are tactical allies in parliament, opposing economic reforms and cooperation with the West.

The communists reacted to Kuchma’s statement with their brand of emotional rhetoric. Communist leader Petro Symonenko accused “the ruling regime” of attempting to divert the nation, with the help of a referendum, from such problems as unemployment and wage arrears, and of trying to set Ukrainians against “the true representatives of the people–the communists and other left-wingers.” Symonenko said that if a referendum is called, it should decide, in addition to the deputy immunity, such issues as the attitude to reforms, abolition of the presidency and granting Russian status as a state language (Ukrainian agencies, Studio 1+1, January 12).

According to the constitution, a referendum can be called by either the president or the parliament. It can also be organized by popular initiative. In this case, 3 million signatures in two-thirds of Ukrainian regions, with no less than 100,000 signatures in each of them, must be collected.–OV

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