Parliament Vote Reflects Ukrainian Political Crisis

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 9

On May 12, the Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution that recommended President Leonid Kuchma dismiss the governor of Trans-Carpathia oblast and provide a critique of “destabilizing activities” engaged in by members of the presidential administration. The non-binding resolution received 238 votes, winning the support of the two left (Communist, Socialist) and two center-right (Our Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko) opposition factions, as well as the newly formed Center plus ten independents and seventeen lawmakers from the pro-presidential “majority.”

The vote reflects a double crisis in Ukrainian politics. First, because it was aimed at Viktor Medvedchuk, the highly unpopular head of the presidential administration. Medvedchuk’s heavy handed tactics have pushed moderates in the pro-presidential majority to defect to opposition or to Center factions.

In the aftermath of the numerous irregularities organized during the April 8 mayoral elections in Mukachevo (see EDM, May 6) there was an earlier parliamentary vote demanding that Kuchma dismiss Medvedchuk, who also heads the Social Democratic Party united (SDPU-o). That vote came up short by just two votes of the 226 required for passage (Ukraine’s Rada has 450 deputies). The opposition also called for the SDPU-o to be banned by the Ministry of Justice. Trans-Carpathian governor Ivan Rizak is a member of the SDPU-o.

The May 12 parliamentary resolution also calls upon the prosecutor’s office to remove the head and deputy head of the Trans-Carpathian Interior Ministry, as well as to investigate the illegally conducted Mukachevo elections in which SDPU-o member Ernest Nusser was declared mayor. And the parliament demanded again that the “siloviky” (heads of the power ministries) give reports to parliament by June 1.

The May 12 and earlier parliamentary votes are reflective of a Ukrainian political crisis in a second sense as well; namely, insofar as they are indicative of a parallel and deepening crisis within the pro-presidential camp, which lost the 2002 elections when it elected only 178 deputies (mainly from single mandate districts). The four opposition parties and blocs, by comparison, elected a total of 222 deputies.

By exerting pressure the pro-presidential camp managed to get enough defections to increase its size to 239, however. And its coordinator, Stepan Havrysh, claims it still possesses that number of deputies. The opposition, meanwhile, has plummeted to 198 deputies.

On April 8, a vote to change the constitution fell short by twelve votes, garnering only 289 of the more than 300 required. Of these votes, only 211 were from pro-Kuchma factions. The vote would have looked worse had the measure not been supported by seventy-nine Communist and Socialist deputies.

Sixteen days later a parliamentary vote to ratify the CIS United Economic Space was backed by only 265 votes, of which 199 were from the pro-Kuchma camp. The vote was adopted only because of fifty-nine Communist votes.

As these recent votes show, the pro-Kuchma “majority” is now a fiction.

Indeed, many of the eight factions comprising the pro-presidential “majority” are in crisis. The People’s Democratic Party (NDP) has only the minimum fourteen deputies. The People’s Power faction has dropped to below fourteen, a result of defections that came in protest over the illegal election violations in Mukachevo; it could therefore lose its standing.

Labor Ukraine, the faction of the Dnipropetrovsk clan led by National Bank Chairman Serhiy Tyhipko, has meanwhile announced a process of “de-oligarchization.” Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs and Kuchma’s son-in-law, resigned from the Labor Ukraine party and announced his intention to focus on “business affairs.”

Members of Labor Ukraine are looking to the 2006 parliamentary elections and are seeking to clean up their images by distancing themselves from the oligarchs. The 2006 elections will be the first to be held using a fully proportional election law.

The 2002 elections, which were held under a 50:50, proportional:single mandate system, showed that the opposition did better in proportional elections while “centrists” tended to prevail in single mandate districts. In the 2002 elections the opposition won 147 out of 222 seats in the proportional half, while the pro-Kuchma camp won but 72 out of 178 seats in the proportional elections.

In April a new Center faction was created out of disgruntled members of the pro-Kuchma camp. And on May 13, fourteen out of the eighteen members of Center who are still technically included in the pro-Kuchma’s 239-deputy “majority” will formally resign from this grouping.

These defections will reduce the pro-Kuchma camp to only 225 deputies and will undermine the legitimacy of Viktor Yanukovych’s government, which claims to be based upon a parliamentary “majority.” This in turn will affect Yanukovych’s own electoral chances as he is the candidate of what is increasingly becoming a “virtual” parliamentary majority.

Anticipating this step, the pro-presidential camp met on May 12 to discuss the fact that, in Havrysh’s words, “there is a crisis in the parliamentary majority and that there is a need to escape from it” (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 11, 12).