Ukraine Lobbies Lawmakers as Debt Vote Said to Risk Failure

  • Parliament set to vote on restructuring accord on Thursday
  • Failure to approve deal this week risks triggering moratorium

Ukraine’s government has stepped up last-minute lobbying because of growing concern that lawmakers won’t back an accord to restructure $18 billion of foreign debt.

Government officials have met with ruling and opposition parties before a vote Thursday that’s supposed to give final approval to the debt deal, according to Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. There are risks that the legislation will fail, according to a person familiar with the restructuring, who asked not to be named because the details are private. Another person familiar with the situation put the chances of approval at 50-50.

Rejection of the debt pact would risk complicating Ukraine’s default and endangering its $17.5 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which set restructuring as a condition for the aid. Opposition by lawmakers shows waning support for President Petro Poroshenko, whose efforts to reach peace in Ukraine’s eastern conflicthave enraged some, particularly nationalists. Political parties are also swayed by local elections, set for October.

“There are risks and they are high," Alexander Valchyshen, head of research at Investment Capital Ukraine in Kiev, said by phone. "Lawmakers are populists in their roots. They don’t have a clear understanding of what’s happening, what’s needed to bring the economy out of recession." 

Bonds Fall

Ukraine’s $1.25 billion bond maturing April 2023 kept declines, falling 0.5 cents to 76.78 cents on the dollar by 5:02 p.m. in Kiev, the lowest in a week on a closing basis.

The debt accord, sealed in August after months of talks with creditors,  envisages a 20 percent writedown to the face value of the bonds, higher average coupons and warrants tied to a recovery in Ukraine’s shrinking economy. After lawmakers approve the deal, Ukraine must give bondholders 21 days to vote on the terms. A self-imposed deadline of Sept. 15 to launch this process has already been missed.

While Ukraine can schedule additional votes in parliament, failure to back the deal this week would mean Ukraine must impose a moratorium on a bond payment due Sept. 23, rather than suspending it as agreed in the restructuring pact, one of the people said. That security has a 10-day grace period.

Future Generations

"Technically, it’s a default either way,"  Fyodor Bagnenko, a Kiev-based bond trader at Dragon Capital, said by e-mail. "But there’s a difference between the default being part of a fully agreed upon process, or as a result of a last-minute rejection by parliament. The latter course wouldn’t look good."

Poroshenko has faced a backlash over plans to grant pro-Russian separatists more autonomy over the lands they control in Ukraine’s east, part of a February peace accord signed in Minsk, Belarus, after mediation from Germany, France and Russia. The passage of legislation on the issue last month prompted violence in Kiev that killed three police officers and prompted a minority party to quit the ruling coalition.

Ukrainian politics is often unpredictable, with allegiances frequently shifting and party lines breached. IMF chief Christine Lagarde met with political parties this month in Kiev and urged them to accept the debt plan.

‘God Forbid’

While Andriy Teteruk, first deputy head of Yatsenyuk’s parliamentary group, said all members would back the debt deal, Viktor Pynzenyk, a lawmaker from Poroshenko’s bloc, voiced his opposition, highlighting a rebellion within the ruling coalition’s own ranks. Pynzenyk’s objections include the debt deal’s warrants, which he said "pass the problem to future generations."

The party of former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko met Tuesday with Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, though won’t say which way it will vote on the restructuring, according to spokeswoman Natalia Lysova. If parliament fails to back the deal, "additional credit resources" to Ukraine will be under threat, Jaresko said.

"This may suspend the IMF program," she told reporters Wednesday in Kiev. 
"God forbid lawmakers don’t back these laws."

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