The April constitutional referendum, which has been a major political topic in the country during last several months, took place last Sunday, 16 April. The turnout surpassed even the most optimistic forecasts – nearly 80 percent of the Ukrainian population, or 29 million, participated in the referendum. Such a turnout was a big surprise for social and political observers. Results of the people’s will was considered even more impressive – more than 80 percent of the citizens who participated in the referendum gave positive answers on all questions.
Eighty-five percent of voters are ready to give additional power to the president concerning the dismissal of the parliament. Eighty-nine percent support the idea of the abolition of deputies’ immunity from criminal prosecution. A suggestion of the reduction of the parliamentary seats received the highest support, or 90 percent of voters. Introduction of a two-chamber parliament was supported by 82 percent of those who came to vote.
However, contradictory information has come to light about the violation of the law on referenda. As is well known, any sign of a constitutional violation can become crucial for Ukrainian membership in the Council of Europe. According to the report of Mykhajlo Ryabets, the head of the Central Election Commission, it received only eight messages about the violation of the law during the Sunday referendum. Insofar as it is impossible to verify whether these violations have actually occurred, Ryabets does not believe that they can affect the results of the referendum.
On the other hand, observers from the Committee of Ukrainian Voters noticed more violations than the Central Election Commission. This committee believes that some segments of the population such as the militia, army, students and prisoners have been forced to participate in the referendum. It has been reported that in some regions of the country, local bureaucrats asked their employees to show concrete evidence that they voted in the referendum. It is suggested that university authorities also checked the lists of students to find out who voted.
In the towns of Kherson and Vinnitsa, teachers at the secondary schools invited parents to meetings and explained to them (sometimes in a threatening way) about the necessity of voting. Practically everywhere, members of the local election committees who were responsible for the conduct of the referendum did not require voters to show their passports as identification and very often let them vote for other members of their families, it was also reported. Doubts about the constitutionality of referendum conduct have also been expressed by the members of the Ukrainian Civil Calculating Commission.
A small number of international observers also checked the legitimacy of the referendum. Their reports will likely become an essential contribution to the final decision of the Council of Europe on the constitutionality of the referendum. If Ukrainian citizens noticed violations of the law, can it be possible that these violation have not been noticed by the international experts? Local observers are concerned that if international observers present similar facts on violations, the country's future as a member of the Council of Europe will be in question.
At the same time, Leonid Kuchma is satisfied that the results of the referendum are a true reflection of the people’s initiative. Since he believes that the will of the people has to be not only respected but also fulfilled, the president will address the parliament with concrete proposals on the realisation of the citizens’ will, the newspaper Facts reported.
Following on the heels of last week's visit by Madeline Albright, Ukraine welcomed the newly-elected acting Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Ukraine is the third country Putin has visited, after Belarus and Great Britain, before his official inauguration scheduled in May. In relations between the two neighbouring countries, such a visit is a considered a very important political step by the new Russian authorities. By comparison, former Russian president Boris Yeltsin waited six years before visiting Ukraine for the first time.
Kuchma and Putin held several meetings in Kyiv and Sevastopol, discussing a broad range of topics. Undoubtedly, the question of Ukrainian debts to Russia for energy supplies was high on the agenda. Visiting Sevastopol, the two presidents again discussed the current problems of the Crimea, Sevastopol itself and the Black Sea Fleet, which have already become a peculiar cornerstone in the relations between Ukraine and Russia. Although Leonid Kuchma was deeply satisfied with the results of Putin's trip to Kyiv, no agreements were signed during the visit. At the same time, Putin stressed that the main goal of Russian-Ukrainian relations is the strengthening of the two countries’ strategic partnership.
L’viv journalists continue their action of protest (see back issue). On 18 April they organised a demonstration of solidarity which was led by journalists with blindfolds on, sealed mouths and closed ears.
A hunger strike may become the next step of the journalists’ action if they do not receive attention by the authorities.
The actions of the L’viv journalists are currently supported by 182 newspapers, 34 radio stations and 16 television stations throughout the country. Some 16,000 Ukrainians have signed journalists’ petition.
Natalya Krasnoboka, 21 April 2000