Ruling Coalition to Expand Following Approval by Constitutional Court

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 72

The Ukrainian constitutional court on April 8 approved the formation of the pro-presidential coalition in parliament in early March. The main controversy was over the right of individual people’s deputies to join the coalition against the will of their caucuses. The court decided that deputies are free to do so. The main implication for Ukrainian politics is that this strengthens the rule of the Party of Regions (PRU) which backs President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Now the coalition is set to expand at the expense of defectors from the opposition, diminishing the influence of the communists and Parliamentary Speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn’s, bloc as junior coalition partners. Also, the opposition in parliament is weakening.

The opposition appealed to the court immediately after the new majority coalition was formed. It argued that Yanukovych’s team violated the constitution by forging the coalition, which included several individual deputies in addition to the PRU, communist, and Lytvyn’s caucuses. Without those deputies, the coalition may not exist as its membership would fall under 226, or the majority in the 450-seat unicameral chamber. Yanukovych needed the coalition in order to replace his arch-rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, with his ally, Mykola Azarov, as prime minister, which occurred on March 11, only hours after the coalition was officially formed.

The opposition argued that the coalition was illegal because the constitutional court ruled in 2008 that any majority coalition must consist of caucuses, implying a ban on individual membership for deputies. However, it was clear from the outset that the court would approve the coalition given the perceived need to preserve government stability, which is shared in the West. Tymoshenko, aware of this, tried to influence the court by alleging that several judges were offered $1 million each for ruling in favor of the coalition (UNIAN, March 29). The PRU accused her of exerting pressure on the court, and the prosecutor-general’s office, summoned Tymoshenko for an explanation. On April 8, it delivered its verdict on the coalition, the prosecutor-general’s office said it did not find evidence of bribery in the court (Kommersant-Ukraine, April 9).

During the coalition’s formation, six more deputies defected from Tymoshenko’s bloc and Our Ukraine, the two opposition caucuses, to join the coalition, consequently swelling its membership to 241 (Ukrainski Novyny, April 13). Lytvyn predicted that it would grow to as many as 260 members in the near future (Channel 5, April 1). As the coalition is now legitimate, there is no need for early parliamentary elections which Yanukovych had pledged to call if the court had rejected the coalition. However, this verdict may have damaged Ukrainian democracy as it raised suspicions of corruption among judges and weakened the opposition, but it is good for stability and economic growth.

As the coalition grows at the expense of defectors from the opposition, the influence within the coalition of the communists and Lytvyn Bloc, the two small caucuses that oppose market reforms, is waning. Consequently, it might be easier for the PRU-dominated government to launch unpopular reforms, such as pension reform, and abolishing the ban on farmland privatization which presents a serious barrier to foreign investment. The larger the coalition, the easier it should be for the PRU to push through parliament the budget bill for 2010, which the cabinet will submit in April in order to qualify for the resumption of financing by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from which the government expects a $5 billion loan.

Meanwhile, the opposition’s weakness became obvious after the March 30 vote on the Education Minister, Dmytro Tabachnyk. Following weeks of a nationwide anti-Tabachnyk campaign launched by nationalists over his controversial education reform plans, a motion of no-confidence against Tabachnyk was backed by only 202 deputies in parliament, 24 short of the required number. No deputy from the coalition supported the motion despite the fact that Tabachnyk’s views are not shared by many members of the coalition.

Recent opinion polls also confirm that the PRU is probably at the peak of its popularity, while the opposition is experiencing difficulties. The PRU would have won an election in March with 36.4 percent against the Tymoshenko bloc’s 13.6 percent, according to a poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology from March 19-28. Tymoshenko’s bloc was trailed by Deputy Prime Minister, Serhy Tyhypko’s Strong Ukraine on 6.6 percent, and former Parliamentary Speaker, Arseny Yatsenyuk’s Front of Change, on 4.3 percent. A similar poll by R&B Group, conducted in mid-March, was more favorable for the PRU, which scored 43 percent against Tymoshenko’s 17 percent, followed by Strong Ukraine on 10 percent and Front of Change on 5 percent (Zerkalo Nedeli, April 10). These results are similar to those in the first round of the presidential election on January 17, in which Yanukovych (35 percent) also defeated Tymoshenko (25 percent), ahead of Tyhypko (13 percent) and Yatsenyuk (7 percent). However, the PRU is the only party among the four most popular parties that performed better in the two polls than its leader did on January 17.