Friday, November 2, was the last day that the Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defense (NUNS) bloc could collect signatures to support a “democratic” (orange) coalition with the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT). BYuT deputies have openly expressed their fear that disunity in NUNS will lead to an unstable orange coalition and a political crisis in 2008.
By last Friday, 69 of the 72 NUNS deputies had signed. The fact that three deputies have not signed is significant. As the orange coalition only has a slim majority of 228 deputies (156 BYuT + 72 NUNS) in the 450-seat Rada, a parliamentary motion for Tymoshenko to become prime minister would fail if the trio sat out.
The three absentees are National Security and Defense Council (NRBO) secretary Ivan Pliushch and two deputies from Trans-Carpathia, the only district NUNS won in the September 30 elections. The two—Ihor Kril and Vasyl Petiovka—are allies of the head of the presidential secretariat, Viktor Baloga, himself a native of Trans-Carpathia.
This situation is yet another indicator that NUNS would be an unstable partner in either the planned orange coalition or a theoretical grand coalition with the rival Party of Regions.
First, it shows that President Viktor Yushchenko has no control over his deputies. They have ignored his October 30 demand that “all of those colleagues who had not signed the declaration on a personal level [should] do so as quickly as possible.”
Second, Yushchenko is now wavering on key agreements, including Our Ukraine’s February 24 agreement to cooperate on a future coalition with BYuT, an inter-party agreement on August 2 that ruled out either BYuT or NUNS joining a coalition with the Party of Regions or the Communists, and an October 15 draft coalition agreement between BYuT and NUNS that was reinforced by an October 29 NUNS presidium meeting. Any betrayal of these commitments and agreements risks voter wrath. The Socialists learned that lesson this year, when voters angry over their betrayal of the orange coalition in summer 2006 kept the party out of parliament for the first time in its history.
Third, even though Our Ukraine was overhauled in the first quarter of 2007 with a new leader (Vyacheslav Kyrylenko), an alliance with Yuriy Lutsenko and his eponymous group, and the removal of businessmen accused of corruption, NUNS received the same 14% of the vote as Our Ukraine did last year.
Fourth, prior to the elections NUNS leaders committed themselves to unite their nine marginal parties into a single pro-presidential force. However, this has not happened and is unlikely to occur while Yushchenko wavers over which coalition to support.
Two of the parties in NUNS have already stated that their deputies will not vote for legislation according to the imperative mandate, which penalizes deputies for leaving their factions with the threat of losing their seat. BYuT initiated that regulation in the outgoing parliament, but the legislation was never adopted.
Baloga reminded NUNS that it had agreed to unification steps prior to the elections and that the aim is to build a presidential party. But so far there is no legal mechanism to merge parties; instead the members of the eight parties would need to self-liquidate and then join Our Ukraine.
In contrast, BYuT and the Party of Regions emerged from the 2006 and 2007 parliamentary elections as Ukraine’s only real party machines. The personal charisma of Tymoshenko in BYuT and the Soviet-style discipline in the Party of Regions means their ranks act as a united front.
Fifth, there are five influential groups in NUNS who are openly hostile to a coalition with the “populist” BYuT and to Tymoshenko’s return as prime minister. These include the pro-grand coalition wing of NUNS grouped around former prime minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Sobor party leader Anatoliy Matvienko, and Petro Poroshenko, a businessman who withdrew from the NUNS 2007 election list in exchange for the position of National Bank chairman.
A second group has coalesced around NRBO secretary Pliushch. The NRBO under Yushchenko has morphed from an institution involved in formulating national security policy into a shadow government.
A third group is aligned around Baloga, who has been tempted by a Party of Regions offer to back him as prime minister in a grand coalition that would make incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych parliamentary speaker. The Party of Regions has continued to combine inducements for Yushchenko to switch to a grand coalition by agreeing to drop contentious issues (i.e. referendums on NATO membership and Russian as a second state language).
A fourth faction is grouped around presidential legal adviser Stepan Havrysh, the coordinator of the pro-Kuchma parliamentary coalition in parliament prior to the Orange Revolution. The return of Tymoshenko would lead to a “deep systematic crisis,” Havrysh predicted.
Finally, opposition comes from the First Lady Kataryna Yushchenko, whose personal dislike for Tymoshenko is well known in Kyiv.
Although personal, economic, and ideological conflicts serve to dampen these groups’ support for Tymoshenko, gender cannot be ignored as an additional factor. Antipathy toward Tymoshenko from the president and within NUNS is also a product of unreformed gender relations inherited from the Soviet era.
If Tymoshenko is not elected prime minister, the resulting political turmoil would likely plunge Ukraine into crisis, as new elections could not be held for one year. For Yushchenko it is better to have Tymoshenko inside the government than her leading the opposition from the outside and launching what she has termed as “Plan B” —her presidential candidacy.
(Ukrayinska pravda, October 25–31, November 1–2, Zerkalo Tyzhnia, October 27-November 2, razom.org.ua, November 1–2)