Ukraine still has no new cabinet in place, and the parliament elected in March still has not started work either. On July 4 President Viktor Yushchenko described this situation as a “parliamentary crisis.” It took months to form the majority in parliament required by the constitution (see EDM, June 28), now attention has turned to forming the cabinet. On June 27, the Party of Regions (PRU), which has the largest faction in parliament, began to physically block the Orange Revolution coalition from electing a speaker from the ranks of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party and to prevent the approval of Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister.
PRU representatives barricaded themselves in parliament, demanding that the majority coalition of Our Ukraine, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party (SPU) meet a set of conditions. The PRU presented the first two conditions on June 26. These included election of the speaker by secret ballot followed by the election of prime minister and proportional distribution of chairmanships of parliamentary committees. The coalition wanted to elect both speaker and prime minister simultaneously in an open ballot — to prevent dissenters in the three parties from breaking the agreement to approve Tymoshenko for prime minister and Petro Poroshenko for speaker — and to leave only a handful of committee chairs for the opposition, including the PRU and the Communists.
The PRU has nothing to lose. There are no legal mechanisms for unblocking parliament in Ukraine, and after a month of obstruction Yushchenko will be entitled to call new elections, which the PRU, apparently being at the peak of its popularity, would only welcome. There is still no full trust inside the Orange Coalition, so any serious obstacle to government formation may kill the coalition. The PRU was formally right, protesting against a simultaneous vote on prime minister and speaker, as current parliamentary regulations prohibit this. The PRU does not conceal that it expects cracks to appear in the coalition if speaker is voted on first — should the 242-strong coalition fail to collect the 226 votes needed to approve Poroshenko for speaker, Poroshenko’s party, Our Ukraine, would likely vote down Tymoshenko.
Cracks appeared almost immediately. The Socialists suggested that Our Ukraine replace Poroshenko with a different candidate for speaker, a suggestion immediately rejected by Our Ukraine. Korrespondent quoted Socialist Oleksandr Baranivsky, now minister of agriculture, as saying that Ukraine’s countryside will not survive another round with Tymoshenko as prime minister. The SPU may not be the weakest link, as it is no secret that many in Our Ukraine, including outgoing Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, only grudgingly agreed to back Tymoshenko.
Afraid for the coalition, Yushchenko backed down. On July 29, he urged talks with the PRU and agreed that the chairmanship of several key committees, including the one for press freedom, should go to the PRU. On June 30, the head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Oleg Rybachuk, made it clear that Yushchenko had agreed to the PRU’s demand that votes for speaker and prime minister should be held separately. They also decided to hold a round-table meeting between the leaders of the coalition and the PRU on July 3 to unblock parliament.
The PRU took this as a sign of weakness, and on July 3, PRU leader Viktor Yanukovych did not turn up for the meeting. He said he would do so only if Yushchenko also attended — a condition that Yushchenko immediately accepted — yet later on the same day the PRU came up with a new set of conditions. These included giving the post of first deputy speaker to the PRU, voting for deputy speakers by secret ballot, and allowing the opposition to nominate judges to the Constitutional Court.
Yesterday, July 4, Tymoshenko’s representative Oleksandr Turchynov said that the coalition had agreed to the PRU’s main demands, including voting for speaker and prime minister separately, giving the chairmanship of several committees to the opposition, and using a secret ballot for deputy speakers. At the same time, he accused the PRU of plotting “to destabilize Ukraine” and made it clear that the coalition has sticks as well as carrots up its sleeve. Asked whether he meant the use of force against parliament like Russian President Boris Yeltsin did in 1993, Turchynov ruled out that scenario, saying, “Our main tank is the support of our voters.” Yushchenko met with Yanukovych and Communist leader Petro Symonenko twice on July 4, but no solution was apparently found.
The coalition may resort to gathering its parliamentary factions for a meeting outside of parliament in order to elect a speaker and prime minister. This happened in 2000, when the leftist opposition was defeated this way by then-President Leonid Kuchma. Yushchenko, however, is reluctant to follow in Kuchma’s steps, as this may make his government look illegitimate, especially in the eyes of the PRU’s vast electorate in the east and south. But he may not make endless concessions either, as this may cause dissent within the coalition’s ranks to grow if more top posts go to the PRU to quench its appetite.
(UT1, June 26; Channel 5, June 27-30, July 3, 4; Korrespondent.net, June 29; NTN TV, June 30; Ukrayinska pravda, July 4)