On October 9 Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko disbanded parliament and scheduled an early parliamentary election for December 7. This was the result of the breakup of the ruling coalition of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) and the bloc of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (BYT) in September (see EDM, September 8). Efforts to restore the coalition fell through, and no new coalition emerged. This legally entitled Yushchenko to disband parliament.
BYT, the only big party opposing an early election, has vowed to use all means to prevent the vote. It tried to override Yushchenko’s election decree with the help of the courts, and the BYT-dominated government blocked the allocation of funds to organize the election. As a result, Yushchenko rescheduled the election for December 14. Given the BYT’s determination, he may have to reschedule it again.
The majority of NUNS and the PRU, as well as two smaller parties represented in parliament—the Lytvyn Bloc and the Communists—welcomed Yushchenko’s decision to call an election (Ukrainska Pravda, October 8). Tymoshenko, however, rejected it. “I am sure that there will be no early election, because this country does not need it,” she said. Tymoshenko argued that a snap election would prevent parliament from quickly passing the state budget for 2009, which would not be good amid the financial crisis. Her opponents, however, claim that she fears she will lose the post of prime minister if an election is held (Ukraina TV, October 10).
Electoral sympathies have hardly changed since the September 2007 early election, as a result of which Tymoshenko became prime minister. Her coalition with Yushchenko, however, had only one seat more in parliament than needed for a simple majority, so even a small change in voter preferences may have serious consequences. “If the PRU receives 2 to 3 percent more than last year and the BYT receives 2 to 3 percent less, the PRU should be able to set up a coalition with Lytvyn’s Bloc and the Communists,” said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Kyiv-based Penta think tank (www.for-ua.com, October 9).
Tymoshenko should not score less than in 2007, as the popularity of her bloc has not diminished; what is more, she has acquired new allies who defected from Yushchenko’s camp. Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko’s People’s Self-Defense (NS), which has been the junior partner of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine (NU) NUNS, will not join Yushchenko again. Lutsenko has urged “all democrats” to unite with the BYT (Interfax-Ukraine, October 10). What is more, the NU itself is falling apart. The leaders of several small parties comprising the NU, including the People’s Movement (Rukh), the Christian-Democratic Union, and the European Party, backed Tymoshenko in her opposition to the early election (Ukrainska Pravda, October 9).
Yushchenko’s team may have a hard time campaigning. There is no unity even among Yushchenko’s faithful allies—Our Ukraine People’s Union (NSNU), of which Yushchenko is honorary chairman, and United Center (ETs), which is close to the head of his office, Viktor Baloha. NSNU head Vyacheslav Kyrylenko ruled out a bloc with ETs, saying that ETs had no particular ideology (Ukrainska Pravda, October 12).
The PRU also has serious problems. It is torn by internal differences. A recent expulsion of National Security and Defense Council Secretary Raisa Bohatyryova from the PRU prompted rumors of an imminent split in the party. The PRU shows no unity even on the key issue of the language. Many people in eastern Ukraine vote for the PRU only because it promises to raise the status of their native Russian language. Borys Kolesnykov, one of the PRU leaders, recently suggested that the PRU should not insist on giving Russian the status of a second official language (Interfax-Ukraine, October 11). PRU head Viktor Yanukovych, however, pledged to do his utmost to upgrade the status of Russian (Ukrainska Pravda, October 13).
The BYT appealed against Yushchenko’s election decree, and a regional court in Kyiv overrode the decree on October 10. Yushchenko fired the judge and disbanded the court, arguing that only the Constitutional Court could rule on national election matters. The BYT accused Yushchenko of exceeding his authority (UNIAN, October 11). Ukrainian Supreme Court Chairman Vasyl Onopenko, a long-time ally of Tymoshenko, expressed his disagreement with Yushchenko’s actions (Ukrainska Pravda, October 14). BYT members physically blockaded several courts in Kyiv in order to prevent them from passing a verdict on the election in favor of Yushchenko (Channel 5, October 13-14). Also, Tymoshenko’s ministers refused to finance the election from the state budget (Channel 5, October 14).
In this situation, the Central Electoral Commission failed to start timely preparations for the vote. The BYT’s actions forced Yushchenko to suspend his dissolution decree in order to allow parliament to amend the state budget to provide for funds for the election. At the same time, Yushchenko rescheduled the election for December 14. When parliament reconvened on October 21, BYT deputies physically blocked the rostrum, preventing a vote on election financing (Channel 5, October 21). Yushchenko may have to postpone the election again, so it may coincide with the Christmas holidays. If that happens, fewer than 50 percent of voters may turn up to cast their ballots, so the election might be invalidated, which may be exactly what Tymoshenko wants.