First Defeat for Ukraine's New Leader Raises Doubt on Reforms and Exposes Weaknesses of His Team

KIEV, Ukraine -- The mayhem in Ukraine's parliament last week not only dealt a humiliating first defeat to the nation's new pro-Western leader, but raised doubts about his ability to enact promised reforms by exposing weaknesses of his team, analysts say.

President Viktor Yushchenko's administration began last week hoping to deliver the international community concrete results of its pro-Western ambitions -- passage of 14 bills required for Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, top right, and his first deputy Adam Martunyuk, top left, look at as lawmakers fight around the rostrum

It ended it with a bleak picture -- in chaotic sessions marked by fistfights and bedlam, lawmakers approving only half of the bills before adjourning for their summer recess.

"The authorities faced a most serious test," wrote the respected Dzerkalo Tyzhnya weekly. "They failed." "This was the first real defeat for the new team," said Vadim Karasyov, an analyst.

Passing the WTO bills was key because Ukraine is hoping to enter the 148-member club by the end of this year, ahead of Russia with whom tensions have risen since Yushchenko mounted an "orange revolution" to defeat the Moscow-backed candidate in last year's presidential election.

It would have translated Yushchenko's oft-repeated aspirations to drive Ukraine toward eventual membership in the European Union into concrete results.

"Everyone has tired of declarations not backed by real reforms, both here and abroad," Dzerkalo wrote.

But now Kiev's bid to join the WTO at its ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December is in real jeopardy, analysts say.

Parliament must still approve the remaining bills, but when it reconvenes in September, its focus will be on a legislative election next March, which promises to be as bitterly-fought as last year's presidential race.

And though Yushchenko put a brave face on his defeat -- "the president is certain that the rest of the legislation will be passed before October," his press service said in a statement -- others did not share in the optimism, both for the WTO bills or any other painful reforms.

"This parliament will not approve 'euroeconomic' rules of the game when it returns," Dzerkalo wrote. The week wasn't supposed to end like this.

After Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko announced that consultations with lawmakers showed that nearly two-thirds of the chamber would back the WTO measures, Yushchenko and the entire cabinet came to the legislature on Tuesday evening.

It was the day before a WTO committee examining Ukraine's bid was to meet in Geneva and the administration was hoping all 14 bills would be approved as a packet.

But lawmakers balked, refusing to even consider the measures. Yushchenko left the chamber empty-handed.

During the next two days, bedlam erupted every time a WTO bill came up for a vote, with opposition deputies swarming the speaker's tribune, sounding sirens through megaphones, and throwing occasional punches at their ideological opponents.

Most in Kiev blamed the government for the debacle, saying it had had tried to ram through the legislation without carrying out necessary consultation with lawmakers.

"You can't substitute dialogue and arguments with blatant pressure," said parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. "The only information I had on some of the bills that I was putting up for a vote was their number."

Moreover, the government failed to secure support from its allies -- many Socialist deputies voted against the measures.

Yushchenko added fuel to the fire by turning a blind eye on members of his administration who had not officially given up their deputy seats, as dictated by law and demanded by the opposition.

"By allowing his subordinates to break the law so obviously, the president gave the opposition a major trump card," wrote the Den daily.

Meanwhile trade officials in WTO's seat in Geneva took a cautiously optimistic tone, applauding the fact that the government did manage to push through some important bills, but warning that much remained to be done.

"It looks quite good, but... everything still very much depends on what happens from now to autumn," said a trade official in Geneva who requested anonymity.

Source: Agence France Presse