CHICKEN GAME?

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 54

Ukraine’s businessmen in politics have cranked up the pressure on Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko to have their representatives in the government by threatening a no-confidence vote in parliament against him on April 10 if he does not agree to a coalition government. President Leonid Kuchma, weakened and exhausted by popular protests and accusations of corruption, departed for a vacation in Crimea on March 10, leaving Yushchenko one-on-one with the power-thirsty oligarchs (see the Monitor, March 2, 14).

On March 11, leaders of the parliamentary majority and Yushchenko discussed the elements of a coalition agreement. A document is expected to be ready for signing by Yushchenko and parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch by the end of March. Political bartering is now in full swing: Yushchenko would like to make as few concessions as possible to preserve his team of politically unaffiliated professionals, while leaders of the eleven factions comprising the majority are working out an internal agreement on personnel proposals among themselves. Not all of them are pushing for concessions from Yushchenko. The liberals and the nationalists from Reforms and Order, two Rukh factions and Motherland have pledged unconditional support for Yushchenko. The People’s Democrats, the Greens, Apple and Solidarity are skeptical about the coalition government. But the majority’s largest and strongest factions, headed by the oligarchs from Kuchma’s entourage–the United Social Democrats (USDP), Regional Revival, and Labor Ukraine, are focusing seriously on their own ambitions.

First Deputy Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk–leader of the faction putting the most pressure on Yushchenko, the USDP–said on March 12 that his main goal is that parliament should have a significant role in the appointments of regional governors. At present, the appointment and dismissal of governors is a solely presidential prerogative. The USDP is not demanding ministerial portfolios, but wants governor’s posts in at least two of Ukraine’s twenty-five regions. Governors enjoy a practically unlimited power in the regions. Through them, it would be fairly easy to direct both the privatization process and the 2002 parliamentary elections of 2002. Medvedchuk is thus demanding at least one concession from Kuchma rather than from Yushchenko. The ambitions of another oligarch, Oleksandr Volkov of Regional Revival, are greater: He wants for his faction the first deputy premier’s post, the ministries of heath, emergencies and environment, the chairmanship of the state property fund, and the directorship of the Ukrnafta national oil company. Parliament’s second-largest faction, Labor Ukraine, has not yet come up with personnel proposals. But their leader, former Economics Minister Serhy Tyhypko, is a staunch advocate of the “coalition government” idea.

The Communists, parliament’s largest faction, have reiterated that they will vote for Yushchenko’s dismissal on April 10, but deny accusations of conspiring with the oligarchs against Yushchenko. Staunch Marxists, they say that they simply want to use this opportunity to get rid of the pro-market, pro-Western government. On March 15, some 3,000 Communists picketed parliament, Kuchma’s office and the government, chanting anti-Kuchma and anti-Yushchenko slogans. Yushchenko received their representatives, who demanded that he either return the country to the Soviet-style command economy, cease privatization and agricultural reforms, or face dismissal.

Yushchenko, reluctant to make concessions to the oligarchs, has accused them of instigating a political crisis and upsetting the balance in parliament. He has also accused them of attempting to take control over the money flows in the economy and reverse reforms in the energy sector. On March 16, he mocked Medvedchuk’s ambitions, saying that “the government is no branch of the USDP.” In an attempt to draw Kuchma to his side, Yushchenko accused his opponents of trying to take power away from the president, even hinting that the oligarchs might have been behind the recent mass antipresidential protests. To stave off a no-confidence motion, Yushchenko will play on differences within the center-right parliament majority, which is on the verge of breaking apart over the issues of allegiance to him and support for Kuchma in the current crisis. Pro-Yushchenko factions (Reforms and Order, the Rukhs and Motherland) tend to sympathize with anti-Kuchma street protesters. If Kuchma does not help Yushchenko out, these factions may break with the rest of the pro-Kuchma majority, effectively putting an end to it. It seems certain that if Yushchenko is dismissed, the majority–which was several years and enormous effort in the making–will collapse. The oligarchs would lose the influence they now wield in parliament. They therefore cannot push too hard in negotiating with Yushchenko (Ukrainska pravda, March 12, 16; Korrespondent.net, March 13, 15; UNIAN, STB TV, March 15; Zerkalo nedeli, March 17).

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