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Ukraine's Parliament Enacts Electoral Reforms


Ukraine's parliament has overwhelmingly passed a broad package of constitutional and electoral reforms, clearing the way for a new presidential run-off election December 26.

Parliament met in extraordinary session for the second time in as many days and, in a surprising move, voted to approve a broad package of constitutional and electoral reforms by a vote of 402 to 21.

After days of deadlock and debate, deputies clapped and cheered as the speaker of Ukraine's parliament, Vladymir Lytvyn, announced that the measures had passed.

Speaker Lytvyn congratulates the deputies for reconciling their differences, an act he said proves Ukraine is united and indivisible.

The measures change Ukraine's electoral laws to prevent incidents of fraud, which plagued last month's presidential run-off elections.

The package also includes controversial constitutional changes that will weaken the powers of the president. Namely, the president will now need parliamentary approval to appoint the country's top ministerial posts.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who was in the chamber during the vote, later signed the bill into law.

The opposition had resisted the constitutional reforms, but yielded to President Kuchma's camp to clear the way for the new ballot.

In return, the opposition also gained parliamentary approval to dismiss the central election commission that oversaw the last round of elections. Deputies later voted in a new commission. That vote saw 11 of the 15-member commission members retaining their posts, but the former chief, Sergei Kivalov, was ousted.

Pro-government forces declared the votes a victory for Ukraine and said attention now needs to focus on how to finance the next round of elections.

Opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko, whose bloc voted against the measures, said the moves only serve to strengthen pro-government forces, which have close to a majority in parliament. Ms. Timoshenko says her bloc will test the measures in the Constitutional Court.

The parliament vote clears the way for international election monitors to begin preparations to oversee the next round of presidential run-off elections on December 26. The contest again pits pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych against opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

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