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Fourth session of Ukraine’s parliament to open in the midst of deep political crisis

February 04, 2014, 5:59 UTC+3 KIEV
The parliament’s first plenary session will take place against the background of ongoing protests on Kiev’s Independence Square
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KIEV, February 04, (IITAR-TASS). Ukrainians will have their eyes fixed on parliament on Tuesday as the legislature’s fourth session of the seventh convocation will open in Kiev to discuss the current political crisis in Ukraine. Local observers believe that the country’s highest legislative body and the decisions it’s going to make will contain reserves for reducing the level of confrontation in Ukrainian society and bring to minimum all the risks and consequences that may be incurred by such resistance.

The parliament’s first plenary session will take place against the background of ongoing protests on Kiev’s Independence Square. Opposition supporters continue blocking official buildings in ten western and central regions of Ukraine.

Speaker Vladimir Rybak is pinning high hopes on the deputies. Recently, he said that the opposition and the authorities had started listening to each other. However, a meeting of the leaders of deputy groups and factions held on Monday dispelled hopes for an early compromise. Some time earlier, Rybak used to promise that parliament would start its session with forming a provisional commission to reform the constitution to meet a demand put forth by the opposition.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the faction head of the Batkivshchina (Fatherland) party, has called on his fellow-deputies to search for real ways out of the crisis.

“Parliament can do a lot to solve the tasks which have never faced this country more urgently. One of them is to return to the 2004 Ukrainian Constitution,” Yatsenyuk said, adding the three opposition parties - Batkivshchina, UDAR and Svoboda (Freedom), intended to include the issue in the agenda. The 2004 Constitution envisages the transition of part of vital presidential powers to parliament. “That will enable Verkhovnaya Rada, among other things, to form a government and have a say in the appointment of the heads of army, police and security services,” Yatsenyuk explained.

He said that it would be enough for parliament to vote just for one resolution to restore the 2004 Constitution while the adoption of a new fundamental law might last for a longer period.

In the meantime, the ruling Party of Regions which was never opposed to constitutional reforms has announced that the opposition’s proposal is unacceptable. Its faction leader Alexander Yefremov suggests putting the Constitution issue to a nationwide referendum for the people to have a chance to express their views on the document’s main provisions.

“Returning to the 2004 Constitution is now impossible in parliament because the opposition lacks votes for pushing this law,” Yefremov said on Monday. According to him, only 191 deputies out of the required 226 have agreed to vote for return to the old Constitution.

The opposition wanted to pass the aforesaid resolution by a simple majority of votes - 226 and later hand the matter over to a special parliamentary commission. Ukraine’s former president, Leonid Kravchuk, who is the head of the Constitutional Assembly, has said he is ready to submit two versions of the Constitution to the commission.

The start of the parliamentary session has coincided with the resumption of talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovich, who returned to work after an illness on Monday, to discuss the composition of a new Ukrainian government.

The president and his entourage are considering several candidates to the post of prime minister. Apart from Arseniy Yatsenyuk, they include Deputy Pyotr Poroshenko, a leading businessman who used to work in the governments of Nikolai Azarov and Yulia Timoshenko. Though he does not belong to any parliamentary faction, he has taken the side of the opposition. The other two candidates are acting Vice-Premiers Sergei Arbuzov and Yuri Boiko.

“The opposition is ready to form a government and take on responsibility for the situation in the country. We are ready to form a cabinet of ministers which is going to be trusted by the people and with whom Western partners will be willing to work,” Yatsenyuk emphasized. He added that it was impossible for the opposition to form the government together with the ruling Party of Regions. “We won’t agree to that. We are going to form the government on our own and only then will we take on responsibility for the events in the country,” Yatsenyuk emphasized.

However, ministerial portfolios and stripping the president of most of his powers are not the only things the Ukrainian opposition is seeking today. It is actively searching for allies in parliament who could adopt their proposals on the government at least by a simple majority or 226 votes. That is why Itar-Tass sources close to the opposition and the Party of Regions believe that intensive talks to reformat the parliamentary majority will take place this week.

The opposition also has plans to change the parliamentary speaker and is actively discussing the matter with political opponents. However, Speaker Vladimir Rybak says that no signatures for his resignation or the resignation of the first vice-speaker, Igor Kaletnik (Communist) have been collected.

The parliament is discussing Poroshenko as a possible candidate to the post of a new speaker.

“We have discussed his candidacy. He may get the support in regions but only if such an issue is going to be raised. We cannot rule out that new candidates to the post of speaker can emerge,” a source at the Party of Regions faction told Itar-Tass. However, there are great doubts that the opposition will be able to collect the majority of votes and approve its candidate for the speaker’s post.

“It is true that the Party of Regions has found itself in a difficult situation. Opinions are divided over how to treat the events. However, there no grounds to talk about any systemic differences,” the Party of Regions explained.

In the meantime, more than 50 regional deputies predominantly in the majority constituencies are ready to leave the Party of Regions faction which has 204 seats in parliament. The recent vote on the amnesty law for detained opposition protesters proved just that. About 50 deputies, according to the Party of Regions faction, were ready to support an opposition proposed draft law. President Viktor Yanukovich had to interfere personally (he urgently arrived in parliament) to persuade the deputies to adopt a law proposed by the ruling party.

The opposition which has 168 seats in parliament will have to work hard to get the 58 votes of which it is short of to get a simple majority. However, it may rely on 43 deputies who are not members of any parliamentary faction and who have contextually supported the opposition’s proposals. However, the Communist faction with 32 mandates has always been a staunch supporter of the ruling Party of Regions.

The parliamentary session that will open on Tuesday will have about 2,000 items on the agenda. However, their solution may slow down if the opposition and the authorities fail to reach an agreement on key issues such as the constitutional reform, the formation of a new government and the opposition proposed repeat vote on the amnesty law.

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