Protesters keep pressure on Ukraine’s parliament to pass key reforms

Healthcare law passes and Bills to end deputies' legal immunity advance

Protesters attend a rally near the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine, on Thursday.  Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Protesters attend a rally near the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine, on Thursday. Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

 

Ukraine’s parliament voted on major reform Bills on Thursday as protesters continued to press for quicker change by rallying for a third day outside the building.

Deputies passed long-awaited legislation to overhaul Ukraine’s creaking and deeply corrupt healthcare system, after receiving strong encouragement from western powers that have helped prop up the country since its 2014 revolution.

Advocates of the reforms say they will make medical care more efficient and transparent, and stop vast amounts of money being stolen as it passes through byzantine bureaucracy en route from state coffers to doctors.

Critics argue that Ukraine’s poorest people will be even more vulnerable under the new system.

Parliament also gave preliminary approval to two rival Bills that would strip deputies of their immunity from prosecution, which will now go to Ukraine’s constitutional court for legal analysis before further debate in the chamber.

“It’s a small thing, but it’s a victory!” said reformist deputy Mustafa Nayyem, who rose to prominence during Ukraine’s so-called Maidan revolution.

“For three years the post-Maidan parliament timidly and evasively avoided this question; they remembered it only after people came out into the streets.”

A Bill tabled by President Petro Poroshenko envisages deputies losing legal immunity from 2020 – after parliamentary elections due a year earlier, and too far in the future according to deputies whose rival Bill proposes a much shorter timescale.

The abolition of deputies’ immunity is one of three demands made by thousands of people who have protested outside parliament in central Kiev since Tuesday; they also want election law to be changed and for a special anti-corruption court to be created.

Parliament rejected three Bills on election reform late on Thursday afternoon, but is expected to debate the issue again next month.

Irina Lutsenko, the deputy who represents Mr Poroshenko in parliament, said he “wants the law on the anti-corruption court passed by the end of 2017”.

“But we emphasise that it is essential for all Bills proposed by the president of Ukraine to be agreed with the Venice Commission, ” she added, referring to the Council of Europe’s panel of legal experts.

Critics accuse Mr Poroshenko, a confectionery billionaire, of stalling on reforms to shield fellow oligarchs and preserve their opaque way of ruling Ukraine.

Police tried to stop activists delivering more tents to the protest camp on Thursday afternoon and, Friday morning, they sought to persuade about 150 demonstrators who remained outside parliament to move to a nearby park.