Defying the official election results and international public opinion, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko boycotted the inauguration of Victor Yanukovych as president on Feb. 25. However, the odd duo may be forced to share power for awhile.
A no-confidence vote aimed at ousting Tymoshenko’s governing coalition is supposed to take place in parliament next week. However, she would remain acting prime minister even if a majority of the 450 deputies oust her – at least until a new coalition is formed and new government appointed. She is still trying to muster enough votes to stay in power.
Whatever scenario plays out, a brutal showdown is brewing between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych. Besides being the nation’s two most popular politicians, they also command the largest two factions in parliament – with Yanukovych’s Party of Regions having 172 votes to the Tymoshenko bloc’s 153.
As Yanukovych rehearsed taking the oath of office in parliament on Feb. 24, Tymoshenko said during a Cabinet of Ministers meeting next door that the fate of the nation hung in the balance.
“The moment of truth has arrived: The decision whether or not to side with Yanukovych will show who values the preservation of Ukraine’s independence and self-identity and who does not,” Tymoshenko said, referring to the leaders of the Our Ukraine group, a 71-member political camp in parliament that formerly backed ex-President Victor Yushchenko. It was a clear threat that she would hold them accountable for betraying the 2004 Orange Revolution principles if they join Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in a ruling coalition.
“I am certain that Our Ukraine group leaders … will stand firmly in the defense of Ukraine and everything Ukrainian. I am certain that these leaders will not change their ideology or beliefs and join a majority coalition led by Party of Regions,” added Tymoshenko.
While Yanukovych has a stronghold over voters in the Russian-speaking east and south, Tymoshenko’s BYuT bloc has clashed with Our Ukraine over the years for Ukrainian-speaking voters in western and central regions of the nation. If Our Ukraine joins Yanukovych in a coalition, Tymoshenko could snap up alienated voters in future elections.
In the short term, it wasn’t clear whether she and her government would take orders from the new president.
Andriy Shevchenko, a member of Tymoshenko’s parliament faction, told reporters on Feb. 25 after a meeting with colleagues that the prime minister and her supporters have a couple of plans in mind.
“Plan A is to preserve, by all means available, the current coalition. Plan B, if a new majority coalition in parliament is formed, is to prepare to work in the opposition, that is, be an opposition faction,” Shevchenko said.
If the Party of Regions gets its way, they would replace the current “Coalition of Democratic Forces” with a “Coalition of Stability and Reforms,” and oust Tymoshenko.
According Volodymyr Tsybulko, a Lviv-based Ukrainian poet and former parliament deputy, they might just get their wish if self-interest triumphs over ideology within Our Ukraine –Self Defense grouping. “When it comes to Ukraine, the issues of democracy, legitimacy and patriotism collide in such a way that it’s very difficult for deputies to take a stand on policy or principle,” Tsybulko said.
“It’s too early to tell what ingredients Yanukovych and Party of Regions want to add to their majority soup,” said Anatoliy Hrytsenko, a former presidential candidate and Our Ukraine grouping lawmaker. “If the recipe is a bad enough, the only solution will be to call new parliamentary elections. “
According to Ukraine’s Constitution, a new election can be called if the parliament fails to appoint a new Cabinet within 60 days after the old one is disbanded, or if sessions fail to commence within 30 days of a single regular session.
Tymoshenko has acted like she does not mind an early election, and has continued repeating that she would never recognize Yanukovych’s presidency.
During a nationally televised address on Feb. 22, she said Yanukovych and his team are already busy destroying the country economically, exploiting cheap labor and defaming Ukrainian language and culture.
“They need cheap labor, poor and disenfranchised people who can be forced to work at their factories for peanuts,” she said. “They also need Ukraine’s riches, which they have been stealing for the last 18 years.”
Tymoshenko said during the address that outgoing President Victor Yushchenko and his successor opened the door to “massive and flagrant election rigging” days before the Feb. 7 runoff by amending the election law.
“[Ukraine’s High Administration Court] refused to even consider documented, proven evidence of the fraud,” Tymoshenko said. “The court cynically refused to establish the truth.”
Hanna Herman, spokeswoman for Yanukovych and his Party of Regions, called Tymoshenko’s tirade shameful. “Tymoshenko, who has taken an anti-government position, is now calling for civil unrest,” said Herman. “Her assertion that international observers were ready to offer evidence of election fraud to the court is a deliberate attempt to confuse ordinary citizens and the international community.”
International observers generally rated the election as free and fair.
Oleksandr Chernenko, chairman of the Western-funded Committee of Voters of Ukraine, said that while there were documented violations during both rounds of voting, they were non-systemic, committed by sympathizers of both candidates and did not alter the outcome of the race.
Exit polls also matched the official results.
“Tymoshenko’s pro-forma attempt to contest the presidential election result in court on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20 should be interpreted as the start of her new political campaign, not the outcome of the presidential election.” Chernenko said.
Kyiv Post staff writer Peter Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.