Ukraine Leader Vows To Block Election Changes

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko appealed to the world community Friday to uphold democracy in Ukraine, vowing to block an opposition proposal to change the constitution and have the president elected by parliament.

President Viktor Yushchenko

The pro-Western Yushchenko, whose popularity has slumped, met ambassadors from G7 industrialized nations as Ukraine's two biggest parties proceeded with plans to form a broad coalition to end 4 1/2 years of political upheaval.

The coalition would bring together groups led by two rivals, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former premier Viktor Yanukovich. Both are also rivals of the president.

Yushchenko was dealt a new blow when parliament dismissed the defense minister, one of his few remaining stalwart allies.

Neither Tymoshenko nor Yanukovich has commented publicly on the coalition talks and there was no sign a quick deal was in the works as Ukraine headed into a long holiday weekend.

Both Yanukovich's Regions Party and Tymoshenko's say a coalition would command more than 300 seats in parliament, enough to change the constitution to have the president elected by parliament rather than by a country-wide vote.

"As head of state, I guarantee that I will permit no illegal election of the president of Ukraine by parliament and will do everything in my power for Ukraine to meet all its international obligations ensuring human rights," Yushchenko was quoted by his Internet site as telling G7 ambassadors.

"But it is clear that such actions will not be enough. I therefore appeal to the international community to extend its assistance to ensure the democratic process in Ukraine."


Addressing journalists later, Yushchenko said any change in electoral procedures had to be submitted to a referendum.

"This is a serious threat. I am therefore appealing to the nation. You must unite, the time has come," he said.

He said he would take part in the next presidential election "as I see this as my duty as a citizen, regardless of my poll rating and how my record is assessed."

Yushchenko swept to power with backing from Western leaders after mass "Orange Revolution" protests against poll fraud in 2004. Infighting, mostly pitting him against Tymoshenko, has reduced his poll ratings to single figures.

Sniping brought down one government with Tymoshenko as premier within seven months of taking office. The government she now heads is underpinned by an unsteady coalition in parliament.

A coalition with Yanukovich would likely improve Kiev's relations with Moscow, which has been irritated by Yushchenko's drive to join NATO and criticism of Russian intervention last year in Georgia.

In parliament, the two groups voted together Friday to produce an overwhelming majority to dismiss Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov, a longstanding ally of the president.

Tymoshenko had demanded Yekhanurov resign after public accounts found instances of corruption in his ministry.

"Yekhanurov is a gaping hole in Ukraine's defense capability and it must be plugged," Oleh Lyashko, a senior member of the prime minister's bloc, told the chamber before the vote.

Proponents say that despite the two leaders' divergent styles and power bases, a coalition deal would ensure stability.

But meetings of the two parliamentary groups appeared to have been postponed and Oleksander Yefremov, a top member of Yanukovich's party, said no agreement was likely before Tuesday.

"If those taking part in consultations see no point in proceeding, everything will be halted," he told reporters.

Another of Yanukovich's lieutenants, Borys Kolesnikov, told the daily Segodnya that deal only stood a 50-50 chance and said the constitution could be changed without a formal deal.

Yanukovich was backed by Russia when he lost a re-run of the rigged 2004 presidential election to Yushchenko. He has since adopted a more moderate stand, while Tymoshenko has made determined efforts to improve her standing in Moscow.

With a nationwide presidential election still on the cards by January, Yanukovich leads opinion polls with more than 20 percent support, followed by Tymoshenko at about 15 percent.

Source: Washington Post