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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Election Law Struggle Grows in Ukraine

KIEV -- Lawmakers sent a showdown with President Leonid Kuchma down to the wire Tuesday by rejecting some of his proposed changes to an election law, saying they want to make their own alterations.

No later than Wednesday, Kuchma is required to sign or veto a law passed by parliament last month setting the system under which March parliamentary elections will be held.

He handed the Verkhovna Rada an ultimatum late Monday: Approve my proposals Tuesday or face a veto. A veto would worsen already-sour relations between the president and parliament and could sow political instability in the struggling former Soviet republic.

Lawmakers agreed to most of Kuchma's proposals, but the Rada rejected others and decided to discuss alterations of their own and vote on them Wednesday, leaving the president little time to make his decision.

Passed after months of debate between oppositionists and parliamentary allies of Kuchma, the law specifies the system under which parliamentary elections scheduled for next March are to be held.

Under the law, voters would cast two ballots -- one for an individual candidate running in their district, and one for a political party with a list of nationwide candidates drawn up before the elections.

The system -- which would fill half the 450 Rada seats from the district voting and half from the party lists -- appears likely to favor strong opposition parties while hurting Kuchma's chances putting allies in parliament as the 1999 presidential election approaches.

In his letter, Kuchma said that several aspects of the law run counter to the Ukrainian Constitution, "and certain parts cannot be put in preactice for objective reasons.''

"On the other hand, I understand the importance of this law for the state and society,'' he wrote.

Proposed changes listed by Kuchma's administration chief earlier would not alter the key aspects of the law, but a veto could lead to a major showdown between president and parliament and sow political instability in the former Soviet republic.

Parliament forwarded the law to Kuchma on Oct. 1, and under the constitution he has 15 days from that date to sign it or veto it.

Separately, Kuchma blamed Russia on Monday for the ineffectiveness of the Commonwealth of Independent States , 10 days before a summit of former Soviet republics.

Kuchma's comments echoed those of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who said earlier Monday that due largely to Moscow, the Russian-dominated CIS has proven of little value.

"We are all to blame to some degree for the fact that the CIS has turned into such an amorphous organization,'' Kuchma told a group of journalists from Kazakhstan in televised comments. "But most of all, Russia itself is at fault.''

In nearly six years of existence, the loose 12-nation grouping -- which now includes all ex-Soviet republics except the three Baltic states -- has done little to carry out its ambitious plans for closer integration.

Kuchma, who is slated to meet with the 11 other CIS leaders next week in the Moldovan capital, Kishinev, charged that aggressive Russian leadership of the commonwealth has set its members further apart rather than fostering closer integration.

"If this organization had followed the path or the example of structures that exist now in Europe, on the Asian continent, in the world, its face today would look entirely different,'' he said of the CIS, whose creation in 1991 sealed the fate of the collapsing Soviet Union.