The opposition in Ukraine’s parliament has failed to oust the government of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Only 174 deputies in the 450-seat chamber voted in favor of a no-confidence motion against her on July 11, far short of the 226 needed. Summer vacation started for parliament on the same day. This means that Tymoshenko stays until at least September, when parliament will reconvene.
This was a victory against the odds for Tymoshenko. She no longer has the support of a majority in parliament after two deputies left the coalition of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) and President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine—People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) (see EDM, June 25). Nor does she enjoy the backing of Yushchenko or those ministers who represent NUNS in her government. Yushchenko is unhappy with her economic policy, and he apparently views her as a probable rival in a presidential election campaign that should start in 2009. Nevertheless, the opposition turned out to be even weaker than the Tymoshenko government.
The Party of Regions (PRU), which is headed by erstwhile presidential contender and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, has been insisting on a no-confidence vote ever since the pro-government majority in parliament ceased to exist last month. Speaker Arseny Yatsenyuk, who belongs to NUNS, initially refused to proceed with the motion, but he backed down when the PRU threatened him with dismissal. On July 8 the BYT started to block the parliamentary rostrum physically in order to prevent the vote, holding a vigil in the session hall (Channel 5, July 8-10).
Yanukovych predicted that a no-confidence motion would be backed by more than 226 votes. He expected that the two smallest caucuses in parliament, the Communist Party and the Lytvyn Bloc (BL), and dissenters from NUNS would contribute to the PRU’s initiative to oust Tymoshenko (UNIAN, July 10). Something went wrong for the PRU on July 10, however, when the BL suggested postponing the no-confidence vote until September or October. The Communists started to hesitate, and the BYT unexpectedly stopped its blockade of the rostrum (Segodnya, July 11).
PRU senior member Mykola Azarov, a former finance minister, explaining the reasons for the motion in a speech to parliament on July 11, criticized the Tymoshenko government mainly for record-high inflation. He said that Ukrainians had to pay 50% more for eggs and 80% more for vegetable oil in May 2008 than a year before (Ukrainska Pravda, July 12). Those figures left the majority of parliament unimpressed. The no-confidence motion was backed only by 172 deputies from PRU plus two dissenters from NUNS.
Leonid Hrach, one of the Communist leaders, said that his party refused to support the PRU because the PRU did not support the anti-NATO protests that the Communists launched several weeks ago in southern Ukraine, where the Sea Breeze international military exercise was under way (Segodnya, July 11). Several informed commentators, however, alleged that Tymoshenko had reached some kind of agreement with the Ukrainian-Russian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin, who is believed to be among the main sponsors of the Communists (Segodnya, July 11; Ukrainska Pravda, July 12).
Segodnya, a newspaper linked to Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in the PRU, accused Yanukovych of undermining the effort to ouster Tymoshenko. According to Segodnya, Yanukovych torpedoed talks with the Communists when he learned that Yushchenko’s team, which he viewed as a potential ally, would not back him for prime minister once Tymoshenko was out. Segodnya suggested that the PRU should stop “exchanging the principles that it declares for secret agreements with the Orange,” apparently meaning Yushchenko (Segodnya, July 13).
Tymoshenko feels more than confident now, and she apparently holds Yushchenko at least partially responsible for the attempt to oust her. Commenting on the abortive no-confidence motion, she said that her opponents wanted to get rid of her government in order to set up a new ruling coalition on the basis of the PRU and NUNS. She suggested that neither the Communists nor the BL were interested in a new coalition “of the president and Yanukovych” (ICTV, July 13). She also blamed Yushchenko for parliament’s failure to amend the state budget on July 11 (Channel 5, July 12).
Raisa Bohatyryova, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, predicted a new attempt to dismiss Tymoshenko in the fall. She said that the no-confidence vote had not been thoroughly prepared by Tymoshenko’s opponents, but she forecast that “in September there will be a trend toward finding some compromise among the parties that are not in the majority and organizing a vote of no-confidence again” (Interfax-Ukraine, July 11). Bohatyryova’s prediction can be interpreted as a threat. She acts as a bridge between Yushchenko and the PRU, simultaneously being a member of Yushchenko’s team and remaining one of the leaders of the PRU.