Ukraine’s political fate shifts amid Rada chaos

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July 13, 2006, 2:44 a.m. | Ukraine — by Orysia Kulick
New pro-Russian coalition led by Party of Regions destroys Orange forces throughout the ranks of the now defunct Orange coalition, which had been briefly revived on June 22 only to fall apart again two weeks later.

After the July 6 establishment of the new “Anti-Crisis” coalition led by the pro-Russian Party of Regions, parliament has once again erupted into turmoil, with holdouts in the Orange camp calling for the president to dissolve parliament.

The Rada’s raucous July 11 session, which came to fisticuffs, as well the growing number of protestors from both sides picketing the Rada and the Maidan, showed that the country remains divided along the lines of geopolitical as well as clan interests, with the Constitution of Ukraine, ridden with ambiguity, offering little guidance.

In a stunning maneuver on July 6, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz abruptly defected from the Orange camp and became the parliamentary speaker of a radically altered new majority coalition, which consists of the Party of Regions, the Socialists (SPU) and Communists (KPU).

A little over a week ago experts had debated whether an Orange Coalition led by the populist Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister and Our Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, a close aide to President Viktor Yushchenko, as parliamentary speaker could hold together.

Now with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), squarely in opposition, having initiated opened-ended nationwide protests, and many deputies in the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc ruling out their joining a grand coalition with the Regions and Communists, it’s unclear whether or not Yushchenko will be able to broker a compromise between the increasingly antagonistic political camps, or whether ongoing disruptions may force the president to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.

With a fading number of political alternatives, the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT) and Our Ukraine arrived armed with sirens as the Rada reconvened on July 11, drowning out the day’s sporadic sessions. They also reportedly sabotaged the computers used to register deputies in the hall in an attempt to block the work of the new so-called Anti-Crisis coalition.

Parliamentary debate quickly descended into a volatile and noisy mix of brawls and insults, with scuffles periodically breaking out between Our Ukraine and BYuT on the one side and the Party of Regions. Deputies from Regions, headed by Viktor Yanukovych, blocked the aisles leading to the podium, protectively surrounding parliamentary speaker Moroz. Intermittently, Regions deputies shouted “Glory to Moroz” and “Out with Yulia,” to which Our Ukraine and BYuT vociferously responded with “Shame on Moroz” and “Moroz is a Judas!”

During the 2004 Orange Revolution, Moroz stood with Tymoshenko and Yushchenko in challenging Yanukovych’s initial victory in the presidential election.

Despite the July 11 mayhem, the Anti-Crisis Coalition managed to sign and deliver their nomination for the post of prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, to the president, who has 15 days to consider the nominee. At the end of the session Communist deputy Adam Martyniuk was elected vice speaker.

As the Post went to press, Moroz announced that parliament would reconvene on July 13, while a meeting between President Yushchenko and parliamentary faction leaders was still ongoing. In addition to Moroz, the head of the Our Ukraine bloc Roman Besmertniy, Yanukovych, acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and the head of the presidential secretariat. Oleh Rybachuk, were present. BYuT leader Yulia Tymoshenko was notably absent from the meeting, as her bloc began staking out tents by the Rada and on Hrushevskoho St. under the slogan “Against the commmunist-oligarchic coalition!”

Tymoshenko announced July 11 that “Our party [Batkivshchyna] and our bloc will not take part in such illegitimate meetings of the Verkhovna Rada and will prepare for new parliamentary elections.”

BYuT deputy Mykola Tomenko said July 12 that Moroz’s betrayal has a much longer history, which began with Viktor Yushchenko signing a memorandum with Yanukovych last September and continued during more recent negotiations between Our Ukraine and the Regions.

“Moroz completed this chain of betrayal,” Tomenko said.

Following Yushchenko’s dismissal of Tymoshenko as his first premier last fall, the Regions supported the president’s appointment of Yuriy Yekhanurov after securing a memorandum satisfying various demands tabled by the party.

Until the renewed Orange Coalition of June 22, Yushchenko’s Orange government consisted only of representatives of Our Ukraine and the Socialists, with BYuT neither supporting or opposing the president officially.

Moroz said on his way to the July 12 meeting that a grand coalition could be established rather quickly given that “the document that could be the foundation of this grand coalition has already been formulated, it exists. It was initialed during previous negotiations between the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine.”

At the March 26 parliamentary elections, BYuT did significantly better than either the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc or the Socialists. However, President Yushchenko delayed forming a coalition with his two former Orange allies until June 22, leading many observers and politicians to accuse the president of secretly plotting a coalition with his former arch-enemies – the Regions.

However, Our Ukraine deputy Anatoliy Kinakh added his voice to the chorus of Our Ukraine and BYuT deputies condemning such a move, signaling that there is still significant resistance within Our Ukraine to this.

“The so-called anti-crisis coalition was formed with serious violations of the constitution and parliamentary procedure, and I have hopes that the courts will confirm this,” he said in a strongly worded statement.

Speaking July 12 Kinakh said that a coalition formed on the basis of falsehoods, betrayals and legal violations cannot be stable or long term and would not consolidate democracy or rule of law.

“In addition, up till now, nobody has seen the agreement on which this [Anti-Crisis] coalition is based, and this confirms yet again, that it is situational and directed at short-term political and personal gains,” he added.

With allies like Kinakh, Our Ukraine faction leader Roman Besmertniy and business mogul Petro Poroshenko all pronouncing the Anti-Crisis coalition illegitimate, the president has not ruled out dissolving the Rada and calling for repeat elections, despite the fact that most observers predict that Our Ukraine could do even worse this time around.

Questions remain whether or not more Our Ukraine and BYuT deputies will defect and join the new majority, further fracturing what is left of them.

Kinakh announced July 11 that two members of his party, which is part of the Our Ukraine bloc, had been kicked out of the faction for supporting Moroz for speaker during the July 6 secret vote.

Orange coalition shattered

On the heels of the Orange coalition agreement inked by Our Ukraine, BYuT and the Socialists on June 22, the Party of Regions began a blockade of parliament and issued a series of demands.

Regions insisted that per parliamentary regulations the chairs of parliamentary committees should be distributed proportionally on the basis of representation in the Rada, rather than on the proportional representation of factions in the governing majority coalition, as proposed in the Orange coalition agreement.

Regions also insisted that the speaker be elected by secret ballot. The Orange coalition agreement called for package voting, which would have parliament vote on the prime minister and speaker simultaneously, thereby safeguarding against one of the Orange “allies” reneging.

This was especially important given Our Ukraine’s proposed nomination of Petro Poroshenko on June 27 for speaker and BYuT’s nomination of Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister, given their tricky working relationship of the past.

The July 6 evening session opened with the Regions proposing that the Rada not adjourn until the speaker was elected. During the vote, 28 of 32 Socialist deputies voted for with one Socialist deputy, Yosyp Vinskiy, voting against. He summarily resigned as first secretary of the party’s political council when it became clear Moroz and the other Socialists had broken the terms of the Orange coalition agreement.

Oleksandr Moroz’s justification was that the Poroshenko-Tymoshenko rivalry would doom the Orange coalition as it “would inevitably create an explosive mixture”. Regions nominated Mykola Azarov for the post of speaker with Poroshenko withdrawing his candidacy from the race.

Experts weigh in

From a legal perspective, President Yushchenko still appears to have a solid basis for dissolving parliament. According to Article 90 of the Constitution, amended in December 2004, one possibility for dissolution is if a government is not formed within 60 days of the resignation of the last government, which is still nominally headed by Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov. The Yekhanurov cabinet officially resigned on May 25, 2006 during the first plenary session of the current Fifth Convocation.

Therefore, if a government isn’t formed by July 25 and the prime minister is not elected by the Rada, Yushchenko can dissolve parliament after consultations with the speaker, deputy speaker and faction leaders.

The Constitution also stipulates that the president can dissolve parliament and call for early elections if the Rada doesn’t meet for 30 days, which is relatively impossible because a quorum is no longer necessary to open a session. In addition, if 150 deputies resign from their Rada mandate, the president can also dissolve parliament, although this has never been attempted.

According to Oleksandr Chernenko, press secretary for the Committee of Voters of Ukraine NGO, “it’s hard to say whether or not Yushchenko will disband parliament … at the moment, there appear to be two scenarios that are theoretically possible, however, they require a clear and narrow legal approach.”

“One possible justification for dissolving parliament would be if the prime minister is not appointed by July 25 … Another more difficult alternative is if 150 deputies resign from their parliamentary mandate because the constitution stipulates that a two-thirds majority must exist, which is 300+1. But even in that case, 226 deputies must vote to accept this resignation, a figure that BYuT and Our Ukraine do not have.”

However, after the events of July 11 and election of the speaker and vice speaker, Chernenko believes Our Ukraine will most likely enter into a grand coalition.

Experts say that although Yushchenko has the legal grounds to call an early election, it’s not apparent whether he will.

Dr. Oleh Gabrielyan, head of the Political Science department at Tavrysky National University in Simferopol, noted that the chances of Yushchenko disbanding parliament are slim because BYuT and Our Ukraine’s support has fallen considerably over the last three months.

“This is not democracy, but a banal struggle over posts and portfolios… and the people are incredibly disappointed,” he said, adding that this current political crisis is not the fault of the West or Russia, which are nevertheless pursuing their interests in Ukraine, “but of the deputies themselves, who’ve been unable to put their own house in order.”

Dr. Gabrielyan anticipates that “the president will support any coalition in any format,” adding that although Yanukovych has been proposed as the new coalition’s candidate for prime minister the post is up for negotiation, especially because the Region continue to demonstrate their willingness to negotiate.

Prof. Voldymyr Dubovyk, director of the Center for International Relations Researcha at Odessa’s I. Mechnikov National University, added that “These are very poor results. Ukraine is still without a government after over three months… Currently, there are no government officials who are responsible for anything and this has a very negative effect on Ukraine’s image internationally.”

Duvbovyk also noted that Our Ukraine has internal divisions which would not help it in any repeat election.

Stability in Ukraine is a priority for the West, Dubrovnyk said, adding that “when there is no government, no decisions are being made and political reform are half completed, the West doesn’t even know who to talk to.”

And although an Orange coalition that is more reform-oriented, as well as more supportive of Ukraine’s entry into NATO and the EU, is preferred by the West, Dubrovnyk noted Russia shouldn’t overestimate its influence on the Party of Regions. He believes that if the Anti-crisis coalition holds the Regions will likely soften their position on entry into these organizations and perhaps even backpedal from recent statements emphasizing Ukraine’s relationship with Russia.“The Regions are not a marionette… They have their own interests, including Akhmetov and others, whose businesses benefit from Western-oriented development, because they compete with Russian businesses,” he said, stressing that Russia’s influence in Ukraine has historically been strongest when “we fight amongst ourselves.”
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