Ukraine’s constitutional crisis seemed resolved on May 4, when Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych agreed to early parliamentary elections. But the date of the vote cannot be finalized until a compromise package of legislative and constitutional changes is adopted (see EDM, May 4, 9).
President Viktor Yushchenko has to choose whether to go ahead with the vote on July 1 or July 8, before the summer recess. Alternatively, he could hold them in September or October, as the pro-Yanukovych Anti-Crisis Coalition (ACC) prefers. However, the adoption of the necessary legal package is being dragged out by the two left-wing members of the ACC, the Socialists (SPU) and Communists (KPU), who are as much to blame for the crisis as they are for holding up its resolution.
The KPU have been in catastrophic decline since the 2002 parliamentary elections, when they placed second, trailing Our Ukraine. While the KPU obtained 20% of the votes in 2002, by 2006 their support collapsed to only 3.66%, with most KPU voters, especially in the Donbas and Crimea, defecting to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.
The SPU and KPU fear being shut out of the next parliament and disappearing as a political force. The Socialists’ votes would likely be picked up by the center-left Yuriy Lutsenko and Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) blocs. Lutsenko resigned from the SPU when it defected from Yushchenko’s camp to the Party of Regions in July 2006, giving it sufficient votes to create the ACC. The Socialists and Communists fear that the Party of Regions will enter a grand coalition with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, rather than them, in the new parliament.
The SPU emerged while the KPU was banned from August 1991 to October 1993 for its support of the hard-line August 1991 Moscow putsch. It later re-established itself as a left-wing force opposed to the centrist-national democratic alliance that ruled Ukraine until 2000-2001, when the controversy over abuse of office surrounding then-President Leonid Kuchma divided them into warring camps.
The center-left SPU and BYuT dominated the anti-Kuchma movement, while Yushchenko and his national-democratic allies supported Kuchma as the head of state and opposed his impeachment. They alternated between giving half-hearted support to the protests and seeking to build a coalition with the moderate wing of the pro-Kuchma centrist camp. Consequently, on the eve of the 2004 elections SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz, currently speaker of parliament, was one of only two politicians who Ukrainians believed to have high moral standards. The other was Yushchenko.
This image is misleading. Moroz has been tainted by scandal himself. The SPU actually cooperated with the center-left Hromada party in 1998-99 when it was led by former prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who fled to the United States in 1999. A U.S. court later sentenced Lazarenko to nine years in prison on money-laundering charges. In addition, the SPU and KPU, like the left throughout the former USSR, have always opposed the institution of the presidency. In 2003-2004 they cooperated with pro-Kuchma centrists to back constitutional reforms transforming Ukraine from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic.
Ukraine’s hastily adopted and flawed constitutional reforms, coupled with the Socialists’ use of illegal methods to railroad these reforms through parliament, are at the heart of Ukraine’s current crisis. On the eve of Yushchenko’s April 2 decree dissolving parliament, the SPU and KPU boasted that a new constitutional majority would be created by summer. Ukraine would be transformed into a full parliamentary republic, leaving Yushchenko a lame-duck president.
Yushchenko’s fate has been linked with Moroz for at least three years. Moroz won 5.82% of the vote in the first round of the 2004 presidential elections and agreed to back Yushchenko in the runoff with Yanukovych. However, in return he demanded that Yushchenko support constitutional reforms, which he agreed to do on December 8, 2004. Yushchenko’s condition was that the reforms not come into effect until 2006 rather than immediately after his election, as the centrists and the left wanted.
The left’s eagerness to railroad the reforms through was flawed in five ways.
First, the legislation was not considered over two parliamentary sessions and was approved without a separate vote on each article.
Second, parliament — then still controlled by Kuchma loyalists — ignored the Council of Europe’s June 2005 recommendations on constitutional reform. The Venice Commission, the CoE’s legal advisory panel, recommended changes regarding the imperative mandate, inter-institutional relations, human rights, and the constitutional court. These reforms, the Commission believed, would “improve the state of democracy and rule of law in the country.”
Third, the Venice Commission correctly predicted that the hastily adopted constitutional reforms, “might lead to unnecessary political conflicts and thus undermine the necessary strengthening of the rule of law in the country.” It also warned that the reforms would not establish “a balanced and functional system of government.”
Fourth, parliament blocked the work of the Constitutional Court from October 2005 to July 2006 by not supplying its full quota of judges. Then August 2006 the ACC forbade the Constitutional Court from reviewing the constitutional reforms.
Fifth, the ACC refused to join the president’s constitutional commission to implement the improvements that the Venice Commission had proposed. The ACC’s refusal to meet the president’s moderate approach to reforms has pushed Yushchenko toward BYuT’s call for a referendum on the reforms.
Moroz’s moral standing was further dealt a blow by his alliance with the Party of Regions after campaigning in 2006 on an Orange (pro-Yushchenko) coalition platform. The SPU had been in both Orange governments in 2005-2006.
Ukraine’s 2007 crisis is a product of the left’s willingness to use illegal means to railroad through constitutional reforms that would transform Ukraine into a parliamentary republic by abolishing the presidency. This threat, and the ACC’s unwillingness to compromise or join his constitutional commission, prompted President Yushchenko to issue his decree to dissolve parliament.
Early elections could be the death knell of the political left as a serious force within Ukrainian politics, and the left-wing parties are desperately trying to avoid the inevitable.
(Ukrayinska pravda, May 5-9; www.razom.org.ua; www.venice.coe.int/docs/2005/CDL-AD(2005)015-e.asp; https://assembly.coe.int/)