Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 27

Just a year ago, the idea of a union between president-elect Viktor Yushchenko and his arch-rival Viktor Yanukovych, defeated and disgraced by vote-rigging accusations, would have been bizarre. But current realities make quite possible a coalition between Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine and Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU) after the March parliamentary election. This is because of the constitutional amendments that came into force on January 1, according to which a majority in parliament, rather than President Yushchenko, will appoint the cabinet after the election. Our Ukraine and PRU may well form the majority, unnatural as it may seem.

The PRU is the undisputed leader going into the elections, but its lead is not as comfortable as to ensure control of more than half of the seats in the next parliament. The chance of forming a majority with natural anti-Yushchenko allies like the United Social Democrats, Volodymyr Lytvyn’s Bloc, or the Communists is low because those allies are so unpopular that it will be hard for most of them to even clear the 3% vote barrier. This means that the PRU will have to seek partners in the opposite camp in order to form a cabinet.

PRU’s strength grew out of the crumbling of the Orange coalition, particularly following the dismissal of Yulia Tymoshenko’s cabinet in September. Our Ukraine has been trying to revive the Orange Revolution coalition, but obstacles to this process look more and more insurmountable as time goes by. Our Ukraine has offered a coalition accord to the other parties that used to form the Orange camp, but are now running in the race separately: Tymoshenko’s Bloc, the Socialist Party, the Kostenko-Plyushch bloc, and the Pora-Reforms and Order bloc (Pora-PRP). An agreement on the distribution of posts in the future cabinet has been part of this draft, Our Ukraine campaign manager Roman Bezsmertny told the Lviv-based Expres daily.

The would-be partners reacted to the draft coldly. Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz called the idea of sharing portfolios before the election “nonsense,” and Pora leader Vladyslav Kaskiv said Our Ukraine should first “cleanse” its ranks. Tymoshenko has made it clear that her bloc would be party to the accord only if she were offered the prime minister’s post. Other conditions put forward by Tymoshenko included revision of the gas trade accords with Russia reached this year and resumption of reprivatization. Bezsmertny and Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov have dismissed Tymoshenko’s conditions as inadmissible in principle.

Our Ukraine can safely ignore the objections from players like Pora-PRP and Kostenko-Plyushch, whose chances of passing the barrier to parliament are slim anyway. The Socialists will have to eventually agree to the role of a junior partner, as they are no political heavyweights. But Tymoshenko’s refusal to cooperate on Our Ukraine’s conditions sounds the death-knell of a new Orange majority, as Tymoshenko’s bloc is among the three favorites in the race, the other two being the PRU and Our Ukraine. Our Ukraine, especially its liberal business wing, will never agree to another Tymoshenko cabinet, remembering her infamous reprivatization campaign and attempts to purge the Yushchenko team of “the businessmen.”

Those “businessmen want a compromise with PRU,” the pro-Tymoshenko weekly Svoboda warns in its latest issue. It mentions former cabinet ministers David Zhvania and Yevhen Chervonenko, both from Our Ukraine’s business wing, among those seeking the compromise. Also according to Svoboda, the leader of the PRU parliamentary faction, Raisa Bohatyryova, recently suggested forming “a political council along the Yanukovych-Yushchenko axis for the sake of national security.”

Bezsmertny and Yekhanurov are apparently not against some kind of an agreement with the PRU. Yekhanurov admitted in a recent interview with Glavred that Tymoshenko might be a more serious enemy for Our Ukraine than the PRU, because Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine fight for the same electorate. And Bezsmertny, speaking in the interview with Expres, did not rule out the idea of forming a cabinet together with PRU, if his efforts to revive the Orange coalition failed.

Vadym Karasyov of the Institute of Global Strategies has opined in Ukrayinska pravda that a coalition between Our Ukraine and PRU may have positive consequences for Ukrainian statehood, such as “legitimizing the national government across all Ukraine” — as the PRU-dominated southeast has not accepted Yushchenko as true leader of the nation — and “removing the issue of Ukraine’s federalization from the agenda.” Federalization, which is firmly rejected by Our Ukraine, has been among the PRU’s main campaign slogans along with giving official status to the Russian language.

On February 6, Serhy Ratushnyak, an ally of parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, claimed that Our Ukraine and PRU have already concluded a secret accord, according to which Yanukovych would get the post of prime minister in the would-be coalition government, and Yekhanurov would be relegated to his first deputy, while Bezsmertny would replace Lytvyn as speaker. Ratushnyak’s statement was dismissed as a dirty trick by former justice minister Roman Zvarych of Our Ukraine and Taras Chornovil of PRU.

(Ukraina, January 24; NTN TV, January 29; Glavred.info, January 30; Expres, February 2; 1+1 TV, Ukrayinska pravda, February 3; Svoboda, UNIAN, Proua.com, February 7)