Ukraine president calls for court reshuffle after graft laws blocked

This file handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian Presidential Press Service on January 11, 2020, shows the President Volodymyr Zelensky during a television address to the nation in Kiev. — AFP pic
This file handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian Presidential Press Service on January 11, 2020, shows the President Volodymyr Zelensky during a television address to the nation in Kiev. — AFP pic

KIEV, Oct 30 — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on parliament to dissolve the constitutional court as hundreds of people today gathered to protest a ruling to block a number of anti-corruption laws.

Zelensky late yesterday submitted the bill called “renewing public confidence in constitutional justice”, which would void the court’s ruling to block much of the anti-corruption legislation and begin the process of selecting new judges.

The constitutional court’s move has sparked an outcry in Ukraine, with hundreds of people demonstrating outside the court in the Ukrainian capital Kiev today.

The protesters, including students and anti-corruption activists, held placards reading “Corrupted court of Ukraine” and “Out the pigs of the constitutional court”. 

Iryna Shyba, a 28-year-old anti-corruption activist told AFP that without proper legal oversight, “most officials will steal with impunity, plunder the Ukrainian budget and Ukraine”.

Riot police on the scene did not intervene even after protesters threw smoke grenades into the court building.

Constitutional court chairman Oleksandr Tupytsky responded to Zelensky’s bill by saying it bore signs of a “constitutional coup”.

“The aim of all of this is to create a neutral, obedient court,” he said during a news conference. 

“I am not accusing the president, but his entourage is doing a bad job,” Tupytsky added.

The constitutional court on Wednesday ruled that a number of anti-corruption laws were unconstitutional, including one on free public access to officials’ asset declarations.

Zelensky, a 42-year-old former comedian, came to power last year pledging sweeping political change and to root out corruption.

Yesterday, he convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, saying the ruling was a “devastating” blow to the ex-Soviet country’s anti-corruption reform drive and saying lawmakers should undo the damage.

After a 2014 popular uprising, the West demanded tangible progress in Ukraine’s fight against corruption, and Kiev established various anti-corruption bodies such as the National Agency for Preventing Corruption and the specialised court.

The EU has warned that its visa-free regime for Ukraine could be suspended if Kiev does not do enough to combat corruption, considered by the bloc to be the country’s top risk.

According to Transparency International, Ukraine ranked 126th out of 198 countries on the watchdog’s corruption perception index in 2019. — AFP

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