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Ukraine's New Parliament Will Face Challenges


Voters in Ukraine went to the polls to elect a new parliament this week. With almost all the ballots counted, the reformist party of Viktor Yushchenko looks set to win about 23 percent of the vote. The Communists are in second place with 20 percent, and the party of ruling President Leonid Kuchma is a distant third with about 12 percent of the vote.

Despite the strong showing of Mr. Yushchenko's party, changes in Ukraine would still be slow in coming.

After being ousted as Ukraine's prime minister a year ago, Viktor Yushchenko led his party, Our Ukraine, to a victory in this week's parliamentary elections.

Mr. Yushchenko spearheaded many of the country's reforms when he served as Prime Minister from 1999 till April of last year. He said he will push for more change now that he is in parliament.

But analysts say his party's success at the polls will not necessarily translate into economic and political reforms in the future since his party will have to share power in parliament with other groups who strongly oppose him.

The Communists, who came in a close second to Mr. Yushchenko's party, were some of his loudest critics while he was prime minister. And the party of ruling President Leonid Kuchma held on to a fair number of seats. As a result, no one party controls the parliament.

Alexei Talpiga is an analyst with the Kiev-based Center for Political Studies. He says the lack of an overwhelming victor means the Ukrainian people are still undecided about the best course for the country's future.

"We voted for three quite different choices. For Communists, for power, for block of Yushenko, maybe democratic, maybe nationalist. So the situation is quite unclear," Mr. Talpiga said.

He added that people should not expect any dramatic changes or reforms with the new parliament. Legislators will find it difficult to form a common position.

"The main minus of the situation is that in this parliament, it will be hard to form some majority at all. Let it be reformist majority, or let it be anti-reformist, but there won't be any majority at all," Mr. Talpiga said.

Analysts say such a divided parliament will also make it unlikely that President Kuchma will be impeached. That was a key question in the days leading up to the parliamentary elections.

President Kuchma's presidency has been shaken by allegations of corruption. Last year, he was implicated in the death of an opposition journalist and thousands of protesters crowded the streets demanding his resignation. And during the election campaign, international observers criticized the way the elections were run, saying they favored Mr. Kuchma's party.

The Ukrainian president's term in office expires in 2004 and he cannot run again. But many people speculated before the elections that Mr. Kuchma would like to extend his term in office or perhaps seek immunity from possible prosecution for when he leaves office.

Now that Mr. Yushchenko's party has a large bloc in parliament, both of these options seem unlikely. However, Irina Kobritskaya, from the Institute of Europe in Moscow, says it is also unlikely the Ukrainian president will be impeached. She says the only clear candidate to succeed him is Mr. Yushchenko and few of the other blocs in parliament would support him.

"I don't think that anyone is really interested in impeachment ahead of presidential elections now because there is only one candidate," she said.

Ms. Kobritskaya also said she doesn't expect much out of the new parliament. She believes the next two years will be spent maneuvering before presidential elections.

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