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UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT GIVES EARLY BACKING TO PURELY PROPORTIONAL ELECTIONS... The Verkhovna Rada voted 262 to seven on 5 March to adopt in its first reading a bill postulating a fully proportional party-list system for parliamentary elections, Ukrainian news media reported. The bill calls for the election of 450 lawmakers in 225 constituencies from the lists of those parties that win at least 3 percent of the national vote, instead of the existing 4 percent voting threshold. The adoption of a purely proportional system is a sine qua non for the Communist Party and the Socialist Party to support constitutional reforms that are being promoted by the presidential administration and the pro-government parliamentary majority (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 February 2004). JM
...TO THE CHAGRIN OF TWO OPPOSITION BLOCS. The Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary caucuses, which oppose presidentially backed constitutional reforms, did not take part in the 5 March vote, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko called the electoral bill a "ticket to a coup," suggesting that the aim of the constitutional reforms currently under debate is to shift presidential prerogatives to the prime minister and allow the pro-government coalition to remain in power after the 2004 presidential election. "The law on the proportional election [system] that was adopted today is a banal bribe that was offered to opposition forces to ensure their support for the anti-constitutional mutiny," Yuliya Tymoshenko charged. " The law gives power to the [oligarchic] clans." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS ENERGY MINISTER. President Leonid Kuchma dismissed Energy and Fuel Minister Serhiy Yermilov on 5 March, saying an inappropriate price policy on the coal market is one of the reasons behind the sacking, Interfax reported. Yermilov was a staunch supporter of using the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline in accordance with its original design -- that is, to transport Caspian oil to Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 25 February 2004). JM
LITHUANIA'S ENERGY EXPERTS DISCUSS RAISING CAPACITY OF IGNALINA NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT. The Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI) has proposed studying the possibility of increasing the output of the second reactor at the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 5 March. LEI head Jurgis Vilemas said the reactor was designed to work at a capacity of 1,500 megawatts, but its output was reduced following the 1986 disaster at Chornobyl, which had RBMK reactors similar to those at Ignalina. Vilemas said it has not yet been determined whether running the plant at full capacity would be safe, but expressed the hope that capacity can be raised to at least 1,400 megawatts from the current 1,300 megawatts. "Without major investment we could [essentially] have a new power plant," Vilemas said, noting that an increase of 100 megawatts would be equal to that of the capacity of the Kaunas power plant. State Atomic Energy Safety Inspection (VATESI) head Saulius Kutas stressed that following the Chornobyl accident, there was widespread fear that safety studies were not accurate enough. He added, however, that there would be no reason not to do so if a new study showed that increasing the reactor's capacity could be accomplished safely. SG