Now that he’s president, can Victor Yanukovych rule?
That is the question on the minds of Ukrainians and others interested in the nation.
The answers will come soon. The new president will have to form a governing coalition in parliament to accomplish the first goal: ousting a defiant Yulia Tymoshenko, whom he defeated in the Feb. 7 election, as the nation’s prime minister.
But doing so won’t be easy. Political analyst Mykhailo Pogrebinsky put the chances of a new coalition forming as “50-50,” saying that “either Yanukovych forms a coalition, or Ukraine heads into a snap election. Either way, we seem to be heading towards a protracted power fight.”
Under the current Constitution, only parliamentary factions – not individual deputies – can form coalitions. Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn’s 20-seat faction is leaning towards a coalition led by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (172 members) and possibly joined by 27 Communist Party lawmakers. But without the 71-member Our Ukraine grouping – which once backed former President Victor Yushchenko -- forming a majority in parliament is impossible.
Assuming a coalition is formed, Yanukovych on Feb. 21 offered three candidates for prime minister. Millionaire ex-banker Sergiy Tigipko, Our Ukraine faction member Arseniy Yatseniuk and Party of Regions lawmaker Mykola Azarov were singled out.
By Feb. 25, some members of Our Ukraine were saying they were ready to support Yatseniuk as prime minister, but the faction remained divided.
Some Our Ukraine lawmakers could stick with Tymoshenko, seeing her as their best bet to a fresh parliament seat. Others were leaning towards a Yanukovych-loyal coalition, but may have switched after a series of controversial statements made recently by the new president.
The most controversial of Yanukovych’s plans include prolonging the stay of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet at a Ukrainian port beyond 2017, yielding Russia a stake over Ukraine’s strategic natural gas pipeline via a consortium and granting the Russian language official state status. Such plans would alienate western Ukraine.
“Many in Our Ukraine are ideologically aligned and their beliefs are very important to them. So, if the Party of Regions is serious about forming a coalition, it must make certain ideological concessions. All other discussion topics take a back seat to these kinds of issues,” added Oles Doniy, an Our Ukraine lawmaker.
Tigipko, considered as the front-runner to be Ukraine’s next prime minister, sees little hope that a snap election will be avoided. “They are still unable to negotiate and reach a deal, and find a political compromise,” Tigipko told the Kyiv Post in an interview.
Tigipko, who finished in third place in the Jan. 17 first round of the presidential election, may welcome an election to build his own base in parliament. He acknowledged speaking recently with Yanukovych about his desire to become prime minister.
“I said that I want to [be prime minister] and if there is an offer I will accept it,” said Tigipko, who pledges he would push through unpopular measures for the good of the nation “But if you ask whether I believe that I will become prime minister, I would say that I don’t believe in it.”
Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council, said that the importance of Our Ukraine in building a coalition “will take the edge off some of the more pro-Russian leanings in the Party of Regions group.”
New parliamentary elections are bound to bring in new forces, such as Tigipko, who “who will cut into Tymoshenko’s and Yanukovych’s electorates, which will further take the edge off this tension. Plus, people want economic improvements, which doesn’t require an east-west answer,” Karatnycky added.
Kyiv Post staff writer Mark Rachkevych can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.