Ukraine’s parliament (Verkhovna Rada) passed its no-confidence motion yesterday in a sweeping majority vote of 263 (in a 450-seat body), effectively ousting its liberal prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko and his cabinet will continue their duties until their replacements are appointed, but for no longer than two months. Ukraine thus loses the first government under which it could boast economic growth (a 6.3 percent rise in GDP last year) and gains a very popular right-wing opposition leader.
Voting against Yushchenko was a loosely allied group of Communists, oligarchic factions and presidential loyalists: the United Social Democrats(USDP), Labor Ukraine, Regions of Ukraine, Yabluko, People’s Democrats, Democratic Union and the Communists. Voting for him were the right-wing factions: Reforms and Order, People’s Movement of Ukraine, Ukrainian People’s Movement, Motherland and Sobor.
Yushchenko’s fate, and that of his cabinet, was in fact close to settled last week when an overwhelming Rada majority gave his government a failing mark for its performance in 2000. Nonetheless, President Leonid Kuchma might have prevented the situation. For some time he had taken a neutral stance, refusing to either defend or condemn Yushchenko. But speaking on April 23, he said publicly that dismissing the government “would not benefit Ukraine.” The following day, he persuaded the oligarchic factions in the Rada to postpone the vote on the no-confidence motion, scheduled for that day, until April 26. At the same time, he agreed to serve as mediator. All to no avail, however, and the sincerity of his effort is open to interpretation. The delay can also be seen as an indicator of his waning influence over the oligarchs. The leaders of two factions long loyal to him, Labor Ukraine and United Social Democrats, said that his mediation would not affect their vote.
Yushchenko went down fighting, and is not likely to disappear from Ukraine’s political scene. “I am not going to leave politics,” he said in his final address to the parliament: “I will be back.” He was willing to negotiate but was not open to strategic changes. The opposition was expecting major personnel and policy concessions. But Yushchenko, wary of losing control over economic policy, rejected their requests. Speaking on April 23, he said that the opposition had demanded more than government posts. It wanted a reversal of reforms in the energy sector–the most corrupt industry in Ukraine–and called for privatization concessions. Yushchenko then went a step farther, claiming that the government crisis had been staged by two or three individuals in pursuit of their private interests. He did not name names, but one can assume that he referred to Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the USDP and first deputy speaker of the Rada, and to Serhy Tyhypko, leader of Labor Ukraine and both a former banker and a former economics minister. These two did in fact orchestrate an anti-Yushchenko campaign in the Rada.
Immediately after yesterday’s vote, the right-wing factions supporting Yushchenko announced their break with the center-right pro-presidential majority and their intention to establish a right-wing presidential opposition. They apparently expect Yushchenko–who is at the moment, according to recent polls, Ukraine’s most popular politician–to join them in a run-up to next year’s Rada elections.
With this vote, Ukraine has plunged itself even deeper into its political crisis. The government is dismissed. The Rada majority has fallen apart. The tape scandal implicating the president in corruption is far from over. Kuchma seems to have lost control over the oligarchs.
At the very least, it will be difficult for a fragmented parliament to agree on a replacement for Yushchenko, particularly with campaigning for next year’s Rada elections underway. It will be difficult for any government to find a balance between the three antagonistic forces now in parliament: the new right-wing opposition, the oligarchic center and the Marxist left wing. Lastly, Yushchenko’s dismissal will raise more doubts in the West about both the sincerity of Ukraine’s governing elite’s free market orientation and the legitimacy of Kuchma’s regime (Ukrainian media, April 20-26).
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