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Ukraine Votes to Hold Early Elections : Politics: Presidential, parliamentary ballots are scheduled for next year. Vote is a bid to avert crisis like the one in Russia.

September 25, 1993|MARY MYCIO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

KIEV, Ukraine — Spurred by appeals to avoid a constitutional conflict like the one convulsing Russia, Ukraine's Parliament voted Friday to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

Ukrainian officials said they hoped that the balloting will lead to ratification of treaties, long held up by parliamentary opposition, that oblige Ukraine to give up the nuclear missiles it inherited from the former Soviet Union.

Lawmakers voted 243 to 39, with only Communists in opposition, to hold parliamentary elections March 27, a year ahead of schedule, and presidential elections June 26, more than three years early.

To a degree far greater than in Russia, Ukraine has been paralyzed by feuding between a president and a parliamentary leadership, both products of the Communist era, over how to rebuild the ruins of a Soviet-style economy. Inflation, driven by subsidies to failing state-owned industries, has exceeded 50% per month here while the economy has shrunk and living standards have plummeted.

The crisis reached a head this week when Parliament refused to give Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma emergency powers to carry out free-market reforms and replaced him with a government mining executive, Yefim Zviagilsky, who favors large-scale state involvement in Ukraine's heavy industry.

Zviagilsky had entered the Cabinet in June to help end a 12-day strike by workers at 225 coal mines who had demanded that President Leonid Kravchuk and Parliament face a popular vote of confidence this month. The threat of new strikes and mass demonstrations rose after Parliament refused to submit to such a referendum.

More than 5,000 demonstrators demanding new elections gathered outside the Parliament building Friday and cheered the vote. One leaflet circulating in the crowd said: "Every day of Parliament's 'work' is an insane circus of zombies."

Kravchuk, who co-sponsored the election law with Parliament leaders, kept up with the debate and approved some changes by phone from Moscow, where he was attending a summit of the leaders of former Soviet republics.

Visiting Defense Minister Malcolm Rifkind of Britain told a news conference in Kiev that Kravchuk was confident the new Parliament will ratify the START-1 nuclear disarmament treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the Ukrainian leader signed in May, 1992.

"He indicated that the prospect of elections for the Parliament might be and ought to be a way of improving the prospects for early ratification," Rifkind said, referring to talks he held here with Kravchuk on Thursday.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Konstantin Morozov said he also hoped that approval of the treaties, which cover 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles, could proceed more swiftly. Nationalists in Parliament oppose the treaties on grounds that Ukraine is threatened by Russian claims on part of its territory and should become a nuclear power to defend itself.

"New elections are progress, and progress will have a positive influence on this issue," Morozov said.

Ukraine's quarreling political factions united behind the idea of elections three days after Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin threw his country into turmoil by imposing early elections by decree. As Russian troops surrounded armed supporters of the Russian Parliament in Moscow on Friday, Ukrainian lawmakers took notice.

"Imagine if events in Russia get out of control and Ukraine has a vacuum of power," said Ivan Zayets, leader of the opposition Narodna Rada, during the debate.

Kravchuk, 59, a former Communist ideology chief who became a conciliatory but ineffective national leader, has not stated whether he will run for reelection. If he does, he will likely face opposition by Kuchma, Parliament Speaker Ivan Plyushch and Vyacheslav Chornovil, leader of the main opposition movement known as Rukh.

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