Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko’s hopes to become prime minister may be dashed. President Viktor Yushchenko wants to invite the Party of Regions (PRU), led by her archrival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, to join a new Cabinet of Ministers. If the PRU, which will have more seats in parliament than the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) as a result of the September 30 parliamentary election, joins the cabinet, it may elbow out Tymoshenko.
Yushchenko explains that he wants unity in Ukraine, which is impossible without cooperation with the most popular party. However, a weakened Tymoshenko may be his real goal, as she is expected to be his rival in the next presidential election.
On October 3 Yushchenko called on the PRU, the BYuT, and his Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense Bloc (NUNS) to launch talks to form a majority in parliament and the next cabinet. Yanukovych, who has never objected to a grand coalition, hailed Yushchenko’s statement. Tymoshenko suggested that Yushchenko did not mean coalition talks, but consultations with the PRU about its role as a party that should become the major opposition force. Yuriy Lutsenko, who topped NUNS’s list for the election, said that NUNS would not join a coalition with the PRU.
The constitution stipulates that the cabinet is formed by a majority in parliament, which Tymoshenko planned to build with NUNS. Before the election, the BYuT and NUNS agreed that, if they form a majority, posts in the cabinet would be evenly divided between the two, but the prime minister’s post would go to the more popular party. The BYuT scored more than twice as many votes as NUNS — 31% against 14% — so Tymoshenko should be prime minister under that formula.
The constitution does not authorize Yushchenko to decide on a majority in parliament. But he can dictate his conditions, because the format of a future coalition depends on the position of his NUNS. While a coalition between the BYuT and the PRU is hard to imagine, neither BYuT nor PRU can form a coalition without NUNS. Tymoshenko knows that there are people in NUNS who are skeptical of her leadership and who are not against cooperation with the PRU. Because of this, she has to make concessions to Yushchenko.
A NUNS-BYuT coalition would have 228 votes in the 450-seat parliament, just two more than the simple majority required to appoint the prime minister. This may be not a wide enough margin, given Ukraine’s recent political volatility. “A parliament in which the majority has an insignificant advantage over the minority is not acceptable for the president,” Vadym Karasyov, an analyst close to Yushchenko’s team, explained to Interfax-Ukraine. In contrast, a NUNS-PRU coalition would control almost 250 seats.
Segodnya, a newspaper close to the PRU, reported that it was “100% settled” that the majority would consist of the PRU, NUNS, and the Lytvyn Bloc – a small party that barely cleared the 3% barrier to enter parliament. Analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told the newspaper that businessmen in NUNS, such as Petro Poroshenko, as well as Foreign Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and former prime minister Yuriy Yekhanurov would not reject a coalition with the PRU.
The head of Yushchenko’s administration, Viktor Baloha, apparently is also in favor of a broader coalition. “I cannot imagine any decisions made by NUNS, including those on the formation of the coalition and the cabinet, that would run counter to the vision of the president,” he warned in a statement on October 5. A day earlier, Lutsenko had said that his People’s Self-Defense group within NUNS was categorically against any alliance with the PRU. Segodnya said Baloha may replace Yanukovych as prime minister if NUNS and the PRU form an alliance.
“I would like to ask all politicians who are saying that they will never talk to anyone else to withdraw their statements and to meet for talks,” Yushchenko said in Paris on October 5, apparently having in mind Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. They did so, meeting at Yushchenko’s office with Yanukovych, the Communists, and Lytvyn’s people on Monday, October 8. Yushchenko continued to dictate conditions. He said he would like to appoint law-enforcement chiefs such as the interior minister, and he demanded the cancellation of the law on the Cabinet of Ministers. The law, which diminished his authority, was drafted by Yanukovych’s party and passed by parliament in early 2007 with Tymoshenko’s backing. Yushchenko also urged the parties to come up with a candidate for prime minister within five days.
After the meeting, Yanukovych insisted that the PRU reserves the right to nominate the prime minister as the election winner. Tymoshenko signaled some readiness for concessions. She said that her coalition with NUNS would be ready to give the PRU the posts of deputy ministers, deputy regional governors, the chairmanship of key standing committees in parliament, and one deputy prime minister’s post. Whether Yanukovych accepts or not is yet to be determined.
(Interfax-Ukraine, October 3, 5; Segodnya, October 4; UNIAN, October 5; Channel 5, Ukrayinska pravda, October 3-8)