Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 43

Nearly a year after parliament voted his government action plan into effect, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko is facing dismissal. Several oligarchic factions in the parliament (Verkhovna Rada) have withdrawn their support and are threatening a no-confidence vote. The communists, apparently, stand alongside them. Yushchenko’s plan, a launch of liberal reforms, passed in the Rada with the support of the pro-presidential majority of the time. Ukraine’s constitution stipulates that once an action plan is voted into effect, parliament cannot introduce a no-confidence vote in either the prime minister or president for one calendar year. That year ends in April.

After murmurs to the same effect in January, Viktor Medvedchuk, first deputy speaker in the Rada and leader of United Social Democratic Party (USDP), announced on February 26 that parliament will vote to dismiss Yushchenko in April if he does not agree to form a coalition government. The Rada majority would then, Medvedchuk said, set up a new government with a new premier. On February 26-27, the leaders of two other strong Rada factions of businessmen in politics–Serhy Tyhypko of Labor Ukraine and Oleksandr Volkov of Regional Revival–issued similar statements. Yushchenko ignored all three factions when he formed his cabinet a year ago. All three are controlled by oligarchs from President Leonid Kuchma’s inner circle. Now, with a coalition government, they want to take control and reverse the course of liberal reforms Yushchenko introduced.

On February 27, several pro-Kuchma factions launched negotiations on a coalition government, and confirmed their decision to get rid of Yushchenko. The Yabluko deputy group, a USDP ally, began to collect signatures for the dismissal. The Communists quickly chimed to support the oligarchs’ ultimatum: One of their leaders, Heorhy Kryuchkov, said that his faction would support the dismissal should this issue be put to vote; they also scheduled a mass protest against Yushchenko’s government for mid-March.

Yushchenko, usually subdued and diplomatic, reacted promptly and emotionally to the announcements. Speaking after an emergency closed-door cabinet meeting on February 28, he said that the government would not accept any ultimatum, labeled Medvedchuk’s statement as a manifestation of “clan approach to politics” and said that negotiations on a coalition government would ruin the Rada majority. He suggested a meeting between him, Kuchma and Medvedchuk to discuss the situation. This seems likely to mark the beginning of a direct confrontation between Yushchenko and the pro-Kuchma oligarchs. Yushchenko wants Kuchma’s backing in denying a coalition government.

The oligarchic faction and the communist ballots between them would suffice to pass a no-confidence motion. To avoid dismissal, Yushchenko will have to either accept the coalition conditions or hope for protection from Kuchma. Yushchenko supported Kuchma against the demonstrators who recently demanded Kuchma’s resignation following the audiotape scandal, implicating Kuchma in organizing murder of an opposition journalist and other serious crimes. But Kuchma has been weakened by the scandal, and the oligarchs are strengthened. When asked on March 1 about Yushchenko and Medvedchuk’s oral duel, Kuchma was noncommittal. If the president sides with the oligarchs and the communists, or continues to refrain from picking sides, Yushchenko will have no choice but to either resign or begin negotiations for a coalition government (Inter TV, February 26; Korrespondent.net, Studio 1+1 TV, February 27; New Channel, February 27, March 1; see also the Monitor, April 4, 26, 2000, February 12, January 29).