Contrary to various forecasts, the 8th session of the Verkhovna Rada opened last Tuesday in a solemn and exalted atmosphere. The traditional procedures — calling the session to order, the singing of the national anthem by the Veriovka Choir, the Speaker’s program speech — took place in a dignified and smooth manner. There were no confrontations, brawls, or even bitter debates in and around parliament, as some politicians and political scientists had promised.
Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn reminded everyone of the beginning of the new political season, which will conclude with the parliamentary elections slated for spring 2006. He noted that the Verkhovna Rada is now facing the most fateful period in the entire history of Ukrainian parliamentarianism. Perhaps this is the why the MPs chose to spare their strength and nerves on the first day. Or, perhaps all the parliamentarians were so lost in thought about their political futures that they simply forgot about sound bites. In any case, after speaking with some MPs, The Day’s correspondent got the impression that many of them are seriously reflecting on where to go and whom to side with. The opening session was attended by cabinet members minus the key figure, Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko (they decided to proceed slowly with forming a pro-governmental majority because Zinchenko’s recent outburst must have brought other problems to the forefront). The head of state’s chair was also empty.
In many respects, Speaker Lytvyn’s opening address very much resembled what he used to say when he was opening and closing parliamentary sessions under the “old” president. According to tradition, Mr. Lytvyn cautioned against outside pressure on parliament. “Both the previous and present governments have been striving to help the Verkhovna Rada organize its work better. This could and should be welcomed if it did not disguise, both then and now, the irresistible desire to exert pressure on the people’s highest representative body,” Mr. Lytvyn said. The Speaker’s phrase that “all over the civilized world it is the parliamentary majority that forms the cabinet, not the other way round,” as well as his claim that ordinary people do not care about forming a parliamentary majority and raising the vote barrier, was a mild but very clear reminder of his attitude to such initiatives by executive branch leaders.
On September 6 the 8th session approved an agenda that includes more than 1,000 pending bills, including those on the political and parliamentary opposition, lustration, the president’s staff, facilities to be reverted to state and public ownership, and a ban on political persecution and infringement of civic rights and freedoms on political grounds. The debates on altering the voting barrier for parliament and local legislatures and on the 2006 budget are expected to arouse intense interest. According to opposition MP Ihor Shurma (SDPU(O) faction), the parliamentary rostrum runs the risk of turning into an advertising stage. “Whereas in previous times parliamentarians usually tried to advertise only themselves, now that a purely proportional system is being introduced, everyone will be trying to shine a spotlight on his own party, which shows a kind of progress,” Mr. Shurma told The Day. At the same time, the MP expressed his resolute opposition to the government’s idea of altering the entry barrier. He warned that if the pro-presidential parties manage to ram this bill through parliament, his faction will question the legitimacy of electing Viktor Yushchenko as president of Ukraine. Also voicing skepticism of the idea to raise the vote barrier was Yuriy Kostenko from the pro-governmental faction of the Ukrainian People’s Party. In his opinion, it will simply be impossible to muster a sufficient number of supporters for this idea.