Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 33

After Ukraine’s parliamentary center-right majority ousted the leftist leadership on February 1, the legislature physically split (see the Monitor, February 3). Refusing to recognize the ouster, the leftist minority blocked the session hall to prevent the new speaker, Ivan Plyushch, and his deputies from taking their seats in the presidium, while the majority worked in a different building. On February 8, however, the Verkhovna Rada resumed work in full composition in the session hall, but only after a group of leftists occupying the presidium was overcome in nothing less than a fistfight by majority representatives. It is clear both that the Red opposition is not unanimous and that the winners will not stop short of below-the-belt punches to assert their victory.

The Socialist faction–part of the opposition–refused to recognize what its leader Oleksandr Moroz defined as “a parliamentary coup inspired by the president.” At the same time, the Socialists did not participate in the Rada blockade by Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) and Progressive Socialists and the CPU did not support the Progressive Socialists’ hunger strike protesting the majority’s actions. On February 10, Plyushch formally dissolved the Progressive Socialist faction, their numbers having fallen below the minimum requirement (fourteen). In short, the Communists did nothing to help their purported allies, though it was possible for them to have done so: When the Peasants similarly faced dissolution in December, the CPU, having the largest faction (over 110 members), delegated several of its members to the Peasant faction to ensure its survival. At the same time, rumors are spreading about an imminent split within the CPU, a substantial segment of which is dissatisfied with the passive style of its leader, Petro Symonenko.

The scene for the leftists is not good: They are in disarray and political pressure on them is mounting. Former Speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko became a target both of a discreditation campaign by the media and the Verkhovna Rada and of a criminal investigation. An ad-hoc majority commission examined the propriety of Tkachenko’s behavior while at his former post, and found that he used an excessive number of Mercedes cars from the Rada garage, and claimed he illegally distributed state-owned apartments in Kyiv to leftist lawmakers. Several newspapers controlled by oligarchs backing President Leonid Kuchma ran articles accusing Tkachenko and his family of illegal real estate dealings. At the same time, a criminal investigation has been launched into Tkachenko’s alleged disruption of Rada work during the crisis early this month. Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko also announced that his office would review a case, closed in 1996, of the failure to repay a US$70 million state-guaranteed loan by Tkachenko’s farm in the mid-1990s. Tkachenko has denied all the charges.

On February 10, the nationalist Rukh launched an offensive against the largest Red force, coming up with a draft law on banning the CPU for “anti-Ukrainian propaganda.” Symonenko argued that the Rada has no right to abolish any party; this, he said, is an exclusive prerogative of the judiciary. Authorities in the Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv regions–traditional nationalist strongholds–appealed to the Justice Ministry to initiate the process of banning the CPU. The anti-Red offensive will hardly go as far as imprisoning Tkachenko or banning the Communist Party, but is consolidating the center-right majority and improving chances of the Rada–which is now threatened by an imminent constitutional referendum–to survive (Studio 1+1 TV, January 31, February 10; Fakty i kommentarii, February 1; STB TV, February 5, 8; UNIAN, February 8, 10; Inter TV, February 9; Kievskie vedomosti, February 9-10; Ukraina moloda, Segodnya, February 12; see the Monitor, January 21).