Yesterday (April 9), Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma for the first time publicly identified himself with the For United Ukraine (FUU) bloc. “God willing, I will join you in four years,” Kuchma said, meaning the next parliamentary (Verkhovna Rada) elections, scheduled for 2006. Ukraine’s constitution stipulates that a president may hold only two five-year terms in office. Addressing the bloc leaders at a gathering in Kyiv dedicated to the FUU’s self-proclaimed victory in the March 31 elections, Kuchma said that he would recognize only a majority formed by the FUU as one worth dealing with, and that the FUU “should have a decisive voice” in that process.
If the words of Volodymyr Lytvyn, FUU leader and chief of Kuchma’s office, are to be trusted, the bloc is very close to forming a pro-presidential majority. At the same meeting, Lytvyn announced that the thirty-five deputies elected from the FUU party list would be joined in the Rada by 145 of the 225 deputies elected from single-seat constituencies. The FUU faction will thus number 180. This is a surprise, given that no more than seventy candidates who won single-seat constituencies originally ran under FUU banners.
Lytvyn’s announcement can be interpreted in two ways. Either the government persuaded three-quarters of the 100 originally “unaffiliated” winners in single-seat constituencies to join in, or the FUU has already managed to coax a significant portion of former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s inherently unstable Our Ukraine center-right coalition into joining the president’s camp. Neither of the two tasks seems impossible, given a considerable administrative resource wielded by the FUU. In a talk show broadcast on April 8, Valery Pustovoytenko, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party–one of five centrist parties forming the FUU–hinted that money and government posts could be used as carrots.
If the FUU already numbers 180, the place of the second-largest faction (Our Ukraine) in the majority formation, is unclear. Top-ranking members of the two blocs say that talks on formation of a coalition are underway, yet Dmytro Tabachnyk, an FUU member and former head of Kuchma’s office, said last week that his bloc could form a majority without Our Ukraine. With just forty-six short of the simple majority of 226 seats, this should not be a formidable task, given that the United Social Democrats, who have secured twenty-four seats, are already willing to join. The FUU could recruit the rest needed for the majority from other factions. Such migrations are commonplace in the Rada.
At the same meeting with Kuchma, Lytvyn formulated three principles, on which the Rada majority is to be based: (1) there will be no majority without the FUU; (2) the FUU will play a leading role in the negotiating process; (3) the majority is to include, if possible, all forces professing the principles of free market, democracy, and European choice. Lytvyn underscored European choice as the bloc’s “strategic value.” After the meeting, Lytvyn told journalists that his leading role in the FUU did not end with the election. He said that FUU deputies chose him as the leader of their future faction in the Rada. It is unclear whether Lytvyn will subsequently resign as Kuchma’s office head. Legally, he is not obliged to do so (UT-1, April 8-9; Korrespondent.net, Interfax-Ukraine, April 9; see the Monitor, April 3, 9).
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