Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko may opt for an early parliamentary election in order to reverse the 2004-2006 constitutional reforms. Reversing the amendments, which diminished presidential authority and made it possible for Yushchenko’s rivals to quickly return to power, is probably impossible without controlling two-thirds of the 450-seat parliament. Yushchenko’s allies are in the minority in the legislature, and only a new election may bring them back to power.
Ardent oppositionist Yulia Tymoshenko has been urging an early election since last summer, when she lost the battle for the post of prime minister to Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko initially was not enthusiastic about such an option. But, after losing his loyal cabinet ministers one-by-one and Yanukovych kept ignoring his orders, Yushchenko apparently started to seriously consider this option.
Yushchenko has been evasive on an early election in his speeches, but two of his allies, former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko and MP Mykola Katerynchuk, are less coy. Both have launched political movements with an obvious eye to an early election, even if they ostentatiously refuse to call the new groups “parties.” However, it may be too late for them to run for parliament if an election is called in 2007, as only parties more than a year old are allowed to run. Most probably, Katerynchuk’s and Lutsenko’s movements are aimed at helping Yushchenko’s People’s Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU) drum up popular support for the idea of an early election and possibly to build bridges to Tymoshenko.
Of the two, at least Lutsenko works in concert with Tymoshenko. She and Lutsenko met on December 11 to discuss “bringing together the democratic forces in an attempt to unite them for an early parliamentary poll,” Tymoshenko told a briefing on the same day. She made it clear that Lutsenko was not going to join her party, but she urged “maximum unification” of the parties pushing for an early election.
Speaking in an interview with Kommersant, Tymoshenko explained the logic behind their plan. Yushchenko, she said, has not put up with the fact that his authority was curtailed by the constitutional changes. “An early election is a lesser evil,” she said. “Dissolving parliament, we should immediately offer a new constitution to the country.” She continued, “Now it would be useless to unite our efforts with Viktor Yushchenko in this direction. We need 300 votes [in parliament], which we do not have.”
Katerynchuk, who resigned as NSNU’s executive committee head in November, on December 15 presided over the first meeting of the “European Platform for Ukraine” movement. European Platform’s declared aim is to unite Ukraine around the idea of joining the European Union, Katerynchuk said in an interview with Den on December 27. He predicted that the country’s economic situation will deteriorate to a point where it will be “uncontrollable,” prompting a crisis situation in spring 2007, when Yanukovych will go and Yushchenko should call an early election.
Lutsenko announced the launch of the “Civil Movement for People’s Self-Defense” on December 20. Like Katerynchuk, Lutsenko did not say much about ideology, but he was straightforward about the goal — a popular “march of justice” in the spring to urge cabinet dismissal and parliament dissolution. “This movement of the people,” he said, “should help the president realize the theoretical possibility of dissolving parliament, which may arise when relevant petitions are considered by the Constitutional Court.”
Yushchenko’s allies and Tymoshenko believe that the Constitutional Court should confirm that there are formal grounds for Yushchenko to dissolve parliament. Tymoshenko told Kommersant that a certain petition was forwarded to the Constitutional Court, so if the court agrees with Tymoshenko, “There will be more than enough grounds” for parliament dissolution. She, however, refused to give details of the petition. Katerynchuk, talking to Den, was more candid. According to him, the formal grounds for parliamentary dissolution are the following: Yanukovych’s cabinet was formed not within 60 days after the parliamentary election in April, as the constitution requires, but on the 62nd day, and the cabinet worked for more than 60 days without an emergencies minister last fall.
The head of the presidential secretariat, Viktor Baloha, told Kommersant on December 18 that an early parliamentary election is possible in either 2007 or 2008. However, he said that there are currently no legal grounds for such a move. “Such grounds may arise,” he added enigmatically.
Recent opinion polls have shown that the public is not ready to embrace the idea of parliamentary dissolution, and that if an early election takes place, the balance of forces may not change in favor of Yushchenko. A poll held in mid-December by the Kyiv-based Public Opinion Foundation showed that only 28% of Ukrainians are in favor of an early parliamentary election. And polls held by three Ukrainian pollsters independently in December showed that Yanukovych’s Party of Regions would win an early election with 28-32% of popular support, followed by Tymoshenko’s bloc with 17-22%, and Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine with 7-14%. These figures are very close to the results of the April 2006 election.
(Channel 5, December 11, 15, 20; Kommersant Ukraine, December 18, 22; Den, December 21, 27; Segodnya, December 26)