As expected, politics at top of agenda for Verkhovna Rada
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - Chairman Oleksander Tkachenko opened the fall session of the Ukrainian Parliament on September 7 by asking the national deputies to refrain from paralyzing the work of the body and unduly politicizing daily legislative debates with pre-election rhetoric during the run-up to October presidential balloting.
He then proceeded to criticize the policies and actions of the administration of President Leonid Kuchma, who is considered the current front-runner in a lengthy discourse.
The first two months of the fourth session of the third Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine are expected to be filled with political electioneering, with the podium of the Parliament as the stump, and devoid of substantive legislative action as the presidential campaign season moves to its finale on October 31.
Because Chairman Tkachenko is one of the 14 candidates battling to oust President Kuchma, his comments surprised no one.
Neither did the presentations from most of the leaders of the Verkhovna Rada's 14 factions, who took their turn taking apart the Kuchma administration, especially since many of them are presidential candidates as well. Twelve of the presidential aspirants and all of the top contenders are national deputies.
Mr. Tkachenko, however, set the tone. After broadly outlining the priorities and objectives of the fall session, he spent the second part of his speech criticizing the course of economic reforms and the policies of the president and the prime minister.
"The national deputies must respond to a government that has shirked its responsibilities and has transformed itself into the campaign headquarters of the sitting president," said Mr. Tkachenko.
He said that attempts at economic and political reform are misguided and could yet lead to economic devastation and the loss of statehood. He referred to the myriad idle factories that have been stripped of their machinery and structures, and sold off, and to the flight of capital into foreign accounts.
The Parliament chairman also mentioned the enormous debt that Ukraine has accumulated in recent years. He said that in 2000 alone, Ukraine will have to repay more than $5 billion to the International Monetary Fund for credits, and to Russia and Turkmenistan for gas and oil.
And in the most shocking of his pronouncements, he suggested that Ukraine is on the verge of a famine comparable in scale to the 1932-1933 Great Famine.
"I advise some gentlemen who will be taking part in events surrounding the day of commemoration of the victims of the Great Famine, to look at the current situation in Ukraine, what awaits us in the year 2000, when as of today, September 7, much winter seed has not yet been sown. Doesn't it remind you of the eve of 1933? Today the historical image of Stalin is beyond repair."
He also alluded to Stalin when he stated that a cult of personality was forming in the Ukrainian leadership.
The various faction leaders, who were allowed five-minute presentations after Mr. Tkachenko finished, followed the chairman's lead. For the most part, however, they were more reserved in their criticism of President Kuchma.
Only Rukh faction leader Hennadii Udovenko, along with the representatives of two factions that stand solidly behind the president, the National Democratic Party and the Social Democratic (United), did not criticize the current government or president in their addresses to the legislative body.
Yet, President Kuchma seems to have accepted that he will be the subject of attacks, whether or not reasonable and fair, through the completion of the campaign season.
The only rebuttal by the government to the comments made in Parliament on opening day was a letter from the Cabinet of Ministers read on the government-owned television channel during the evening news. The document defended the work of the Cabinet of Ministers, stated that grain collection for this year was on schedule and would at least equal the level of 1999, and rejected Mr. Tkachenko's figures on the amount of foreign debt Ukraine owes in 2000 as overstated.
Even with all the pre-election rhetoric and diversion that the national deputies will encounter through October 31, they will still have a legislative agenda to fill. Chief among the Parliament's objectives is to approve, for the first time in several years, an annual government budget in a normal and timely manner.
Last year the budget approval process ran into January, while in 1997 it took half of the fiscal year to put together.
Chairman Tkachenko told his national deputies that the budget proposal from the Cabinet of Ministers is expected by September 15 and would be tabled in the Parliament by October 10. Whether the Parliament will begin work on it before the elections is questionable, according to many national deputies.
Nonetheless, National Deputy Roman Bezsmertnyi, who is the presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada, said he remains optimistic that the budget process will move along as normally as possible during an election season.
"The level of politicization will be extremely high, but it will not be able to break the budget process," explained Mr. Bezsmertnyi. "There will be two issues tugging at us: the elections and the budget."
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 12, 1999, No. 37, Vol. LXVII
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