Opposition Mulling Vote On Criminal Code

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s opposition groups will decide by January 10 whether to launch a plebiscite to try to change the criminal code with amendments that could lead to the release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yulia Tymoshenko

The plebiscite option comes into focus after President Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions Party repeatedly refused to support such legislation in Parliament despite Yanukovych’s earlier promises.

“This issue is being discussed,” Andriy Kozhemiakin, a senior member of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said at a press conference in Kharkiv.

“I think by January 10 we will decide on ways of doing it and on when to start the procedure.”

Tymoshenko, the founder and the leader of Batkivshchyna, was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in jail for abusing power while prime minister in January 2009.

Tymoshenko denied wrongdoing and said the sentencing was politically motivated and aimed at removing a political rival to Yanukovych.

The sentencing essentially makes sure Tymoshenko will not compete against Yanukovych at next presidential election in March 2015.

Tymoshenko was punished for negotiating a 10-year natural gas supply agreement with Russia that had set high gas prices.

The jailing of Tymoshenko created a serious obstacle for Ukraine’s European integration with most western leaders essentially suspending contacts with the Yanukovych administration.

Meanwhile, the opposition considers using the controversial law on referendum that has been approved by pro-Yanukovych majority earlier this year and signed by the president.

The opposition earlier sharply criticized the law for opening an opportunity for Yanukovych to potentially amend constitution that could make it easier for him to win re-election to the second term in office.

The opposition also expressed concerns Yanukovych may use the law to change Ukraine’s foreign policy course by reversing European integration towards closer cooperation with Russian and its allies.

Kozhemiakin said opposition groups have weighted the potential problem, but suggested that the opposition may have to press with the referendum because there were few other available options for releasing Tymoshenko.

“We understand that this law on the referendum is a quite dangerous law that may lead to the usurpation of power by the incumbent president,” Kozhemiakin said.

“We discussed that.”

Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Rybak, a long-time ally of Yanukovych, said on December 19 that Ukraine should not use referendum for amending the constitution.

“In my view, the constitution cannot be approved by referendum,” Rybak said in a statement released by Parliament.

“The constitution must be approved by Parliament.”

Kozhemiakin held the press conference shortly after visiting Tymoshenko in a Kharkiv hospital, where she is being treated for back pain.

He said Tymoshenko was in high spirits.

“She has been feeling a little better,” Kozhemiakin said.

“Now her eyes are filled with optimism.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal