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Ukraine's Electoral Reform Gets Mixed Reviews


The Ukrainian parliament's move Wednesday to pass far-reaching political and electoral reforms is drawing a mixed reaction among politicians and analysts in the country. Meanwhile, both pro-government and opposition forces are claiming victory in the political stand-off that, at one point, raised fears of a possible breakup of Ukraine.

Ukraine's opposition forces massed by the thousands on Kiev's Independence Square Wednesday night to support their candidate for president, Viktor Yushchenko.

Flanked by key aides, Mr. Yushchenko told the crowd that during 17 days of struggle, the opposition, with the help of the people, had secured a democratic victory for Ukraine without violence.

Mr. Yushchenko said as a result, Ukraine's people now have a new vision of their country as a member of the western community of democratic nations. He pledged to work toward a Ukraine free of corruption, and a better life for all in both the east and west of the country. Eastern Ukraine is a stronghold of his opponent, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Mr. Yushchenko also urged the opposition, including the thousands of young people who have camped out in the streets of Kiev, to continue the struggle because he says the days leading up to the next round of elections will not be easy. He also urged all Ukrainians to again go to the polls and vote.

His comments come just hours after Ukraine's parliament, the Rada, passed a broad package of constitutional and electoral reforms that clear the way for a new presidential run-off election on December 26.

The measures change Ukraine's electoral law in an effort to prevent incidents of fraud, which plagued last month's presidential run-off election and sparked the mass anti-government protests in Kiev and other regions. The deputies also named a new central election commission to oversee the

new voting.

Prime Minister Yanukovych, who has said he has no choice but to run in the next round of elections, has condemned the parliamentary moves as illegal. He also said they offers no guarantees, in his view, that fraud will not be repeated during the voting later this month.

Mr. Yanukovych says none of the new central election commission members named Wednesday are from eastern Ukraine. For this reason, he says his party will deploy many observers during the voting to ensure there is no cheating agains him.

During the last ballot, each side accused the other of trying to disrupt the vote. In a landmark ruling last Friday, Ukraine's Supreme Court invalidated the second round run-off and called new elections for December 26.

The package of reforms passed Wednesday also includes controversial constitutional changes that will weaken the powers of the president. The president will now need parliamentary approval to appoint government ministers. The opposition had resisted the constitutional reforms, but yielded to President Kuchma's camp to clear the way for the new run-off.

Appearing on Ukraine's independent television station, Channel Five, Kiev-based political analyst Vladimir Polohalo said the measures passed Wednesday are a loss for the opposition.

Mr. Polohalo says the end result of the reforms is that outgoing President Leonid Kuchma will be able to wield political influence through pro-government forces in parliament long after he leaves the presidency.

But analyst Vadim Korosov says Mr. Yushchenko will most likely come to power in the next election as a direct result of Wednesday's political compromise.

Mr. Korosov and other analysts believe Mr. Yushchenko will become more acceptable to voters in the pro-Russian east, now that the powers of the presidency have been weakened.

Officials in the United States and Europe have welcomed the end to Ukraine's political impasse and are offering to help Ukrainians any way they can to ensure a free and fair presidential run-off this next time around.