Long-time opponents of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko allied with defectors from his camp to outplay him in a bid to secure control over the government. The Orange coalition, which was announced on June 20, barely survived two weeks; instead a coalition built around the Party of Regions (PRU) has secured a majority in parliament and is about to form a new cabinet. Yushchenko’s firebrand ally Yulia Tymoshenko has lost the opportunity to become prime minister again; instead, the post of prime minister will most probably go to Yushchenko’s bitter rival in the 2004 presidential election and subsequent Orange Revolution, Viktor Yanukovych.
The radical turn of events came on July 6, when the Socialist Party (SPU) took back their promise to support a candidate for parliamentary speaker nominated by Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, Petro Poroshenko. Unexpectedly for their Orange allies, the SPU put forward their candidate, party leader Oleksandr Moroz. The PRU immediately saw this as an opportunity to jump on the government train and voted for Moroz, rather than for their own candidate, Mykola Azarov. Moroz was also backed by the Communist Party’s (CPU) votes. On the following day, the three parties formed a new majority, naming it the “anti-crisis coalition,” and the SPU quit the Orange camp.
This was a hard blow for Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine, who called Moroz a traitor. Tymoshenko warned on July 7 of “a return to the Kuchma era in its worst shape,” recalling that Yanukovych was former President Leonid Kuchma’s faithful prime minister in 2002-2004. Yushchenko initially seemed to hope that Our Ukraine would be admitted to the new coalition, saying in a TV interview on the same day that he could not imagine Our Ukraine in the opposition. At the same time, he said that he might dissolve parliament, should talks with the PRU fall through.
On July 7, the anti-crisis coalition nominated Yanukovych for prime minister. Our Ukraine reportedly tried to persuade the PRU to form a grand coalition with the SPU, but without Tymoshenko and the CPU and on the condition that an Our Ukraine representative would be prime minister — essentially the conditions the PRU had agreed to in the middle of June, before the emergence of the abortive Orange coalition — but this time the PRU did not accept Our Ukraine’s overtures.
Yushchenko insisted that he would not accept the new coalition, which, he argued, was set up with procedural violations. He threatened to disband parliament and call new elections. Yushchenko argued that he had the right to do so, as the Orange parliamentary majority had fallen apart, and 30-day term set by the constitution for a majority to take shape had elapsed. At the same time, Our Ukraine was continuing fruitless talks with the PRU.
The new majority chose to meticulously adhere to procedures so as not to provoke Yushchenko. On July 10, the SPU officially pulled out of the Orange coalition, and on July 18, as requested by Yushchenko, the anti-crisis coalition submitted Yanukovych’s candidacy for prime minister. Communist MP Adam Martynyuk, who was elected deputy speaker on July 11, said the majority would meet one of Yushchenko’s principal conditions for approving Yanukovych as prime minister — to swear in the Constitutional Court (CC) judges — very quickly, in order to have the CC on hand to appeal against Yushchenko’s possible decision to dissolve parliament.
Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine tried to use the weapon that the PRU had wielded in June — physically blockading parliament — in order to make opponents accept their conditions. But this could not continue incessantly, and Yushchenko eventually faced the dilemma of either disbanding parliament and calling new elections, which Tymoshenko demanded, or recognizing the new majority. New elections, however, would have most probably been won by the PRU hands down, as they are at the peak of their popularity. Instead, Yushchenko decided to accept defeat. On July 18, Our Ukraine said that it recognized the new majority coalition and announced it is going into the opposition.
The PRU is the only party clearly benefiting from the new coalition. The CPU may find it hard to explain to their voters why they joined forces with a party that they for years castigated as “a criminal clan.” The SPU may find itself in an even worse position, even though its leader secured the post of speaker. It is on the brink of a split — the SPU’s de facto number two man, Yosyp Vinsky, publicly chastised Moroz for betraying the Orange Revolution and resigned from the party’s governing body; Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko announced he was quitting the SPU; and there have been reports about mass defections from the SPU in the regions.
Our Ukraine is probably hit hardest, as its protracted horse-trading with the PRU and then subsequent defeat must have disillusioned its electorate. The results of several public opinion polls, made public over July 15-17, showed that Yushchenko’s popularity is probably at an all-time low, under 10%. Yanukovych and his party are supported by more than 30% of Ukrainians and Tymoshenko by around 20%.
It is not only Yushchenko and Our Ukraine that face problems, however. The anti-crisis majority may be even less stable than the Orange one. There are differences in foreign policy matters — while the CPU is decidedly pro-Russian, the PRU advocates a pragmatic approach, declaring the need to continue the European integration course and the intention to mend relations with Russia, as key PRU member, Borys Kolesnikov, said in an interview with Invest gazeta. Differences in economic matters are much deeper — the CPU opposes private ownership, but the PRU professes economic liberalism. The SPU favors state control over big industry, while the PRU’s opponents fear that this party is prone to redistributing national wealth between the regional “clans” and “oligarchs.”
(Channel 5, July 6, 7, 10, 18; Inter TV, July 7; Ukrainian radio, July 8; Zerkalo nedeli, July 15; Invest gazeta, July 18)