Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is ready to call an early parliamentary election as his party, Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense (NUNS), withdrew from a coalition with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc (BYT). According to Ukrainian laws, NUNS has time until September 13 to change its mind; otherwise, either a new coalition will emerge or Ukraine will see a third parliamentary poll in four years. Russia, self-confident after the events in Georgia, may play some role also in Ukraine as both Tymoshenko and her possible ally in a new coalition, Party of Regions (PRU) leader Viktor Yanukovych, have apparently been seeking Moscow’s support.
The crisis in Ukraine has both domestic and international roots. On the one hand, both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko rejected Yushchenko’s condemnation of Russian behavior in Georgia. This prompted Yushchenko to accuse them of betraying the country’s national interests. On the other hand, rivalry between Yushchenko, who wants to run for a second term in 2010 but is weakened by constitutional reform and low popularity, and Tymoshenko, who views her tenure as prime minister as a springboard to presidency, has reached its climax.
Tymoshenko has been under serious pressure from both Yushchenko and PRU since the abortive no-confidence vote against her in July (see EDM, July 16). The PRU promised to try and topple Tymoshenko again in the fall, and Tymoshenko feared that NUNS and the PRU would forge a new coalition, leaving her in the opposition.
Yushchenko’s secretariat mounted an unprecedented offensive against Tymoshenko in the second half of August, following her refusal to back Yushchenko on Georgia. The secretariat accused her of treason and instructed the Security Service (SBU) to check whether Tymoshenko refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Georgia because, according to Yushchenko’s aide Andry Kyslynsky, Moscow reportedly has earmarked $1 billion to back Tymoshenko’s presidential bid (UNIAN, August 18). Furthermore, Yushchenko’s secretariat head Viktor Baloha instructed the SBU to check his suspicions that Tymoshenko was conspiring to kill him (Ukrainska Pravda, September 2).
Although the accusations may seem far-fetched, Tymoshenko must have taken them seriously. She counter-attacked on September 2, when parliament re-convened after summer vacations. BYT sided with the PRU both in rejecting a NUNS-drafted resolution denouncing Russia’s behavior in Georgia, and in passing a string of laws aimed at further weakening the presidential authority.
As NUNS representatives walked out in protest, parliament by the votes of the PRU, BYT, and the Communists approved laws simplifying the impeachment procedure, forbidding the president from suspending cabinet resolutions by referring them to the Constitutional Court, and depriving the president of the rights to choose the prosecutor-general, the security service chief, and the regional governors (Interfax-Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda, September 2-4).
After that, nothing was left to NUNS but to declare their coalition accord with BYT null and void. The ministers appointed to the government on NUNS’s quota refused to attend a government meeting chaired by Tymoshenko. Yushchenko, addressing the nation on September 3, accused Tymoshenko of masterminding a coup by forging a new de-facto coalition with the PRU. He said that he would call an early parliamentary election if no formal coalition emerges in parliament (Channel 5, September 3).
Yushchenko said later that NUNS would return to the coalition with BYT on two conditions: if BYT helps him veto the “anti-constitutional” laws passed on September 2-4, and if it backs his position on Georgia, including his condemnation of Russia’s use of the Sevastopol-based Black Sea Fleet in actions against Georgia (UNIAN, September 5). This ultimatum will hardly be accepted.
Parliament has already managed to overrun several of Yushchenko’s most recent vetoes. Russian Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska complimented Tymoshenko on her “absolutely correct behavior” (Interfax, September 3), and Yanukovych reaffirmed his support of Russia on Georgia (Channel 5, September 5). What is more, the PRU and BYT set up an ostensibly pro-Russian ad-hoc investigative commission to probe arms supplies to Georgia, and its head Valery Konovalyuk announced that proof of illegal arms trade has already been found (Interfax-Ukraine, September 4).
Yushchenko has painted himself into a corner. If NUNS does not change its mind, there will be either a BYT-PRU coalition, or an early election. Neither outcome is good for Yushchenko. A BYT-PRU alliance would control more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament, enough to pass any laws, override any presidential vetoes, and amend the constitution. In case of an early election, NUNS may fail to clear the 3% barrier. According to a poll by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences’ Sociology Institute, the PRU would likely win a snap election with 26.6% of the popular votes, followed by the BYT with 22.2%, and the Communists with 5.4%. Less than 4% of voters might back NUNS, the poll showed (Interfax-Ukraine, September 4).
In case of an election, the PRU and BYT may leave NUNS no chances altogether. BYT deputy Serhy Teryokhin has drafted a bill that suggests raising the barrier to 10% (Channel 5, September 4). If it is passed, Ukraine may obtain a two-party system, with no place for Yushchenko. According to PRU deputy Vadym Kolesnychenko, the PRU and BYT could also choose to impeach Yushchenko over Ukrainian arms supplies to Georgia although this seems unlikely (Interfax-Ukraine, September 3).