Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko survived a no-confidence motion in parliament on February 5. The motion was backed by 203 votes, 23 short of the number required in the 450-seat chamber to oust the government. This was another victory of this kind for Tymoshenko, who survived a similar motion last December. Tymoshenko will stay at least until September, as parliament can vote on no-confidence motions only once in a session.
Tymoshenko’s victory was a crashing defeat for the Party of Regions (PRU), the main opposition party of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, which organized this motion, but lost the game because of internal differences and the lack of trust among potential allies. If Yanukovych fails to consolidate the PRU, it will be very difficult for him to win the next presidential poll, and the party itself may lose its leading positions.
Like in December, the PRU was abandoned by its would-be allies at the crucial moment. Although the majority of the Communists backed the motion, several of them, including leader Petro Symonenko, were simply absent from parliament. Although President Viktor Yushchenko’s aide Roman Bezsmertny called for Tymoshenko’s dismissal ahead of the vote (ICTV, February 3), Yushchenko himself failed to take a clear stance, so only one splinter group from the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) caucus – the United Center linked to presidential secretariat head Viktor Baloha – supported the motion. Another pro-Yushchenko group, headed by Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, apparently abstained, afraid to lose its ministers in the Tymoshenko government (Zerkalo Nedeli, February 7).
The reluctance of the other potential allies of the PRU to back it against Tymoshenko, whose government is very weak due to both the economic crisis and the incessant conflicts with Yushchenko, is due to the PRU’s own weakness. The PRU has earned a reputation for being an unreliable partner in coalition talks because several groups of influence within it have been tearing the party in different directions. When the chair under Tymoshenko was shaky last fall, the PRU negotiated a possible coalition simultaneously with her party and her bitter rival Yushchenko. As a result, a new coalition was formed, but without the PRU.
The problem for the PRU is that it is essentially a business corporation driven by the economic interests of its major sponsors like the metals tycoon Rinat Akhmetov and the gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash, which do not always coincide. In the conditions of the Ukrainian political war of all against all, it is hard for the PRU to compete when everything is at stake with such political machines as the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT), where everything depends on the iron will of the leader, and the ideological parties of Yushchenko and Symonenko.
The PRU lost the most recent battle against Tymoshenko even before it started. A day before the vote, the PRU gathered to decide what to do if the no-confidence motion failed and how to persuade several of its least disciplined members to turn up for the vote, rather than how to proceed after Tymoshenko’s possible ousting. Moreover, a conflict erupted between the three strongest groups of influence within the PRU linked to Firtash, Akhmetov, and Andry Klyuyev, a businessman from Donetsk who is believed to be the main supporter of the idea of a PRU-Tymoshenko coalition.
Firtash’s people reportedly accused Klyuyev of secretly supporting Tymoshenko. Klyuyev accused the pro-Firtash group of weakening discipline in the party (Ukrainska Pravda, February 6). Borys Kolesnikov, who is Akhetov’s right-hand man, reportedly alleged that Serhy Lyovochkin, the PRU deputy chairman and a man of Firtash, used his connections in Yushchenko’s secretariat to instigate the opening of criminal cases against his party colleagues (Obkom.net.ua, February 6).
After the vote, Kolesnykov called for the expulsion from the PRU of "certain colleagues whose corporate interests dominate over party interests". He said Lyovochkin and his allies played into Tymoshenko’s hands by pushing for a no-confidence motion without properly preparing it (Ukrainska Pravda, February 6). The Firtash group pushed for the motion because Tymoshenko’s tenure as prime minister threatens his gas business. She managed to oust Firtash’s UkrGaz-Energo from the domestic gas trade in early 2008, and RosUkrEnergo, a joint venture between Firtash and Russia’s Gazprom, has been removed from gas trade between Ukraine and Russia in 2009. Now she reportedly plans to put an end to Firtash’s control of Ukraine’s several regional gas distribution companies (Ukraina TV, January 23; Kommersant-Ukraine, February 5).
A possible expulsion of Firtash’s people from the PRU should give a chance for Yanukovych to consolidate the PRU around its Donetsk core. The PRU’s internal differences have not yet affected either its own or its leader’s popularity. According to recent opinion polls, the PRU remains the most popular party and Yanukovych the most popular leader (Segodnya, February 10). Addressing parliament on February 5, Yanukovych, who understands that his popularity may evaporate after a series of political defeats by the time of the presidential election scheduled for January 2010, called for simultaneous early presidential and parliamentary elections (Ukrainska Pravda, February 5). The United Center is apparently the only major party that supports the PRU in this area. Quite naturally, Tymoshenko flatly dismissed the idea (Kommersant-Ukraine, February 6).