Protest Mood Re­turns

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLEG SUKHOV [email protected]

Pro­test­ers and po­lice face off dur­ing a rally of Ukrainian demon­stra­tors in front of the par­lia­ment in Kyiv on Oct. 19. The protest lead­ers are de­mand­ing that law­mak­ers and Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko cre­ate an in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion court, end le­gal im­mu­nity from crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion for law­mak­ers and adopt a fairer elec­tion law ahead of the 2019 pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Ukraine saw re­newed po­lit­i­cal un­rest on Oct. 17, with thou­sands of pro­test­ers clash­ing with the po­lice, block­ing streets and set­ting up more than 50 tents near the build­ing of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s par­lia­ment in Kyiv.

The pro­test­ers are de­mand­ing the cre­ation of an anti-cor­rup­tion court, the lift­ing of law­mak­ers’ im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion and a fairer elec­toral law — part of a long-run­ning cam­paign by the Ukrainian peo­ple to take on the oli­garchy, cor­rup­tion and im­punity.

The on­go­ing protest is one of the big­gest demon­stra­tions since the 100-day EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion that drove Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, a cor­rupt klep­to­crat sup­ported by many of Ukraine’s oli­garchs.

This also marks the first largescale protest tent camp since 2014.

On Oct. 19, par­lia­ment be­lat­edly and only par­tially sat­is­fied one of the de­mands, send­ing two bills on lift­ing law­mak­ers’ im­mu­nity for con­sid­er­a­tion to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court. How­ever, the Rada re­jected a bill on elec­toral re­form and Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko has failed to sub­mit a bill on the cre­ation of anti-cor­rup­tion courts so far.

The demon­stra­tors pledged to con­tinue their protests un­til their de­mands are met.

Grow­ing frus­tra­tion

The ral­lies un­der­line the pub­lic’s grow­ing frus­tra­tion with the in­cum­bent au­thor­i­ties and the per­ceived sab­o­tage of Ukraine’s re­form drive. Poroshenko and his al­lies have promised a fairer elec­toral law and can­cel­ing law­mak­ers’ im­mu­nity since 2014, and en­vis­aged the cre­ation of anti-cor­rup­tion courts in a ju­di­cial re­form bill passed last year. But time af­ter time they have failed to de­liver on their prom­ises.

The protests saw the con­sol­i­da­tion of a broad op­po­si­tion move­ment against Poroshenko, unit­ing Lviv Mayor An­driy Sadovy’s Samopomich Party, with 26 law­mak­ers in the 422-seat par­lia­ment; ex-Ge­or­gian Pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvil­i’s Move­ment of New Forces; ex-Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko’s Batkivshch­yna Party, with 19 mem­bers in par­lia­ment; na­tion­al­ists from Svo­boda and the Na­tional Corps, and civil so­ci­ety groups like the Au­toMaidan and the Rean­i­ma­tion Pack­age of Re­forms.

Saakashvil­i, who was stripped by Poroshenko of his cit­i­zen­ship in July, and who broke through the bor­der into Ukraine in Septem­ber, played a lead­ing role in or­ga­niz­ing the protests. Ac­tivists from Saakashvil­i’s Move­ment of New Forces brought tents to the Rada on Oct. 17, and Saakashvil­i also de­manded that Poroshenko re­sign if he fails to meet the pro­test­ers’ de­mands.

“One (pres­i­dent) has al­ready fled to Ros­tov,” Yuriy Levchenko, a law­maker from Svo­boda Party, said at the Rada, re­fer­ring to the fugi­tive Yanukovych, who is on trial for largescale cor­rup­tion and or­der­ing po­lice to kill 100 pro­test­ers be­fore he fled. “I’m won­der­ing where this one will flee to.”

The vol­un­teer Don­bas Bat­tal­ion, which fought Rus­sian-sep­a­ratist forces in the east of Ukraine, acted as the demon­stra­tors’ se­cu­rity divi­sion, in­stalling bar­ri­cades and cor­dons to pre­vent the po­lice from dis­pers­ing the camp. The bat­tal­ion is closely al­lied to Samopomich party law­mak­ers Ye­gor Sobolev and Se­men Se­menchenko, the unit’s for­mer com­man­der.

Im­mu­nity

The Rada on Sept. 19 con­sid­ered two bills on can­cel­ing law­mak­ers’ im­mu­nity.

The op­po­si­tion bill en­vis­ages lift­ing im­mu­nity im­me­di­ately, while the pres­i­den­tial bill seeks to lift im­mu­nity start­ing from 2020.

The pres­i­dent’s bill has been crit­i­cized as a de­cep­tion by the op­po­si­tion. Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers said that Poroshenko and his al­lies may use it as a PR stunt be­fore the 2019 elec­tion, and the next par­lia­ment may de­lay the lift­ing of law­mak­ers’ im­mu­nity even fur­ther.

The Poroshenko Bloc ar­gues that it has no in­ten­tion of post­pon­ing the mea­sure af­ter 2020.

The Rada sent both bills for ap­proval to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court. Sub­se­quently they will be sent back to the Rada, which will need to ap­prove them with a con­sti­tu­tional ma­jor­ity.

“If you don’t lift im­mu­nity, the Ukrainian peo­ple may lift it in an­other way — they’ll throw you out,” Levchenko told his col­leagues in the Rada.

Elec­toral re­form

The elec­tion bill backed by pro­test­ers seeks to re­move sin­gle-mem­ber dis­tricts and leave only party-list pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Sin­gle-mem­ber dis­tricts are seen as a ma­jor ve­hi­cle of po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion in Ukraine, with wealthy can­di­dates buy­ing votes in their con­stituen­cies.

It also seeks to in­tro­duce “open party lists”, which means that cit­i­zens will vote not only for par­ties them- selves but also for spe­cific can­di­dates nom­i­nated by par­ties. Can­di­dates who get more votes will move clos- er to the top of party lists and be more likely to be elected. Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, party lead­ers can ar­bi­trar­ily choose the or­der in which can­di­dates ap­pear on party lists.

How­ever, the Rada failed to garner enough votes on Oct. 19 to pass the leg­is­la­tion.

Anti-cor­rup­tion courts

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion for Democ­racy through Law, bet­ter known as the Venice Com­mis­sion, on Oct. 9 sup­ported leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion courts and urged Poroshenko to sub­mit a rel­e­vant bill. How­ever, Poroshenko has re­sisted the idea for more than a year and has failed to sub­mit a bill on anti-cor­rup­tion courts so far.

Iryna Lut­senko, the pres­i­dent’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in par­lia­ment, said that Poroshenko ex­pected a bill on anti-cor­rup­tion courts to be passed by the end of this year, but added that it first needs to be ap­proved by the Venice Com­mis­sion.

The op­po­si­tion saw this as yet an­other de­lay­ing tac­tic. Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, a Poroshenko Bloc law­maker crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent, said that fur­ther re­view was not nec­es­sary be­cause the idea had al­ready been ap­proved by the com­mis­sion.

(Volodymyr Petrov)

Peo­ple rally near the Verkhovna Rada build­ing on Oct. 17 to de­mand that the Ukrainian par­lia­ment sup­port re­forms in Ukraine.

Pro­test­ers clash with po­lice dur­ing a rally of Ukrainian op­po­si­tion in front of the par­lia­ment in Kyiv on Oct. 17.

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