Under the country’s new election law that was approved in October 2004, the new members of parliament will be elected for five-year terms (previously four years) and they will also be obliged to stay on their party ticket throughout their term. The threshold for parliamentary representation is now set at 3% of the vote. On 26 March, voters will also cast ballots in regional, municipal, district and local elections. Despite the logistical complexities thisentails, the election law prescribes that the results should be released within five days of the polling day.
The country’s new parliament willhave to deal with a series of new constitutional amendments that entered into force in January 2006. It will fall on the deputies to nominate and approve the country’s new prime minister and the cabinet ministers and to create a majority coalition. From now on, the prime minister will be answerable to both the president and the parliament.
Should the parliament fail to conclude a majority coalition deal within 30 days after its opening session, the president has the right to disband the body and call new elections.
At stake in the elections is whether Ukraine speeds up its efforts toward European integration or moves instead to a closer relationship with Russia.President Yushchenko has repeatedly pledged to steer the country towards EU membership. Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk has said that Ukraine may become a member of the EU by 2015. The EU, meanwhile, has granted market economy status to the country, launched talks on easing visa restrictions and promised to sign a free trade agreement once Kiev joins the World Trade Organisation - but has steered clear of holding out the prospect of membership to Kiev.
Some 400 international observers will monitor the vote on 26 March and 76,000 police will be guarding the country's 34,000 polling stations.
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