The mere fact that Ukraine finally has a cabinet of ministers since August 4 is an achievement after a seven-month vacuum. (The outgoing cabinet had been dismissed by parliament in January, continued as a powerless caretaker beyond the March elections, resigned officially in May both collectively and at the level of individual ministers, and limped on without proper legal authority.)
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s new cabinet includes ministers nominated by President Viktor Yushchenko, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, alongside a preponderance of ministers from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which is the “Donetsk clan’s” political vehicle.
This cabinet is top-heavy with officials who personified the corrupt fusion of business interests with the government and the manipulation of elections before the short-lived Orange period. Thus, Yanukovych’s government marks a return to power not just of the Party of Regions, but to a certain extent of the phenomenon of Kuchma-ism and some of its personalities. Their antecedents do not necessarily or fully presage their conduct in the new government (just as the coalition’s National Unity Declaration is no guide to the government’s policy — see EDM, August 7). However, those antecedents suggest that the Yanukovych government is ill equipped to lead Ukraine toward democratic institution building — the unfulfilled Orange mission.
The Verkhovna Rada approved the cabinet’s composition at an agitated session with 269 votes in favor out of 450, the balance not voting or voting against. The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc voted solidly against this cabinet, with only six deputies bolting from the bloc to vote for the new government.
Despite Yushchenko’s final deal with Yanukovych, only 30 of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine deputies voted for the new government, while 51 of them variously refused to vote or voted against. This action reveals that Our Ukraine’s majority disapproves not only of the cabinet’s composition but also of the president’s actions.
The Party of Regions holds the first deputy premiership and all three deputy premierships, in addition to the prime minister’s post. First Deputy Prime Minister and concurrently Finance Minister Mykola Azarov had earlier exemplified the selective and arbitrary use of taxation while serving as head of the State Tax Administration and Finance Minister during the Kuchma era.
Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Kluyev, now in charge of the energy sector, is among Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen as well as former minister, in a political system that has yet to internalize the notion of conflict of interest. Azarov and Kluyev are personally close to the Party of Regions’ most influential decision maker, Renat Akhmetov (formally number seven on the party’s slate of deputies). Another deputy prime minister, Dmytro Tabachnyk, the former head of Leonid Kuchma’s presidential administration, helped coordinate the use of “administrative resources” in presidential and parliamentary elections during that period. He has meanwhile reincarnated as a Crimean deputy. The third deputy prime minister and concurrently construction minister, Volodymyr Rybak, is also a veteran Kuchma-era office holder. The Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers, Anatoly Tolstoukhov, is also a throwback to that period, when the cabinet’s resources and property were used in the interest of power holders with little public accountability.
The new fuel and energy minister, Yuriy Boyko, headed the state oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrainy during the first Yanukovych government (November 21, 20002, to January 5, 2005) and is one of the principal figures who brought the notorious RosUkrEnergo gas company into Ukraine in August 2004. The Party of Regions has also appointed the ministers of economy, of the coal industry, of labor, of the environment, and for ties with parliament
The Socialist Party retains the Transport Ministry and Education Ministry as in the predecessor government and for the same two incumbents. The party reckons to retain the chairmanship of the State Property Fund as well, based on an informal understanding with the Party of Regions.
The unreconstructed Communist Party has entered the government thanks to the Party of Regions. The Communists have appointed Agricultural Policy Minister Yuriy Melnyk and Industrial Policy Minister Anatoliy Holovko based on the party’s coalition quota. Melnyk was the predecessor government’s deputy prime minister responsible for agriculture, nominated by the Socialist Party, which opposes the privatization of land, as does the Communist Party. Meanwhile, the nonbinding National Unity Declaration envisions “putting land into economic circulation” by September 2008.
Yushchenko had hoped in vain to be spared the embarrassment, to himself and his ministers, of accepting Communists in the coalition. The Communist Party had barely passed the 3% threshold to enter the parliament, holds only 20 seats, is not needed for forming a numerical majority, and cannot make any serious trouble within parliament or outside, having lost almost all influence on society. In fact, the Party of Regions has seamlessly inherited the lion’s share of Communist votes in eastern Ukraine.
Thus, appeasement or cooptation of the Communists was unnecessary. However, the Party of Regions needs the Communist group of deputies as a watchdog on the pro-presidential Our Ukraine as well as a reserve of votes for Regions within the coalition. Communist leader Petro Symonenko has promptly and snarlingly announced his readiness to play that role. With the Communists inside the coalition, the Party of Regions will be less dependent on pro-presidential deputies for approval of decisions, and by the same token the pro-presidential group will be limited in its leeway to oppose decisions it may not like.
Yushchenko has re-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk (Rukh), Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko (non-party), and Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Lutsenko (hitherto Socialist) to those same posts and will also appoint the security service chief and prosecutor-general, all within the presidential quota under the amended constitution. In addition, as part of the deal with Regions, Yushchenko has managed to obtain the ministerial posts at justice, health, family and sports, culture, and emergency situations and Chernobyl cleanup for the Our Ukraine bloc.
Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko are determined to pursue a Western orientation under the president’s political authority and constitutional prerogatives to set the course of foreign and defense policies. Meanwhile, the majorities in the cabinet and parliament seem set to ponder a return to the Kuchma era’s two-vector policy.
The incoming Justice Minister, Roman Zvarych of Our Ukraine, served in that same post for some months in 2005, until he was found to lack a law degree and to have misrepresented his degree in another field of study. Despite the ensuing scandal, Zvarych retained Yushchenko’s trust and helped negotiate the deal with Regions.
At the moment, Zvarych calls for substantially expanding the powers of the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, a presidential appointment, giving him the right to vet government decisions. The proposal may well be designed to prepare a return of Zvarych’s current political patron, Petro Poroshenko, to that post, which he held in 2005.
Lutsenko reported sick and did not attend the voting in parliament that confirmed him as internal affairs minister. He had warned repeatedly that he was not going to be part of a Yanukovych government, and quit the Socialist Party in July as a protest against the deal party leader Oleksandr Moroz cut with Yanukovych. In the run-up to the August 4 parliamentary vote, Lutsenko publicly denounced as “forgery” the court documents that purported to rescind Yanukovych’s two criminal convictions as a youth in Donbas. As minister in 2005-2006, Lutsenko had aggressively targeted some prominent Donetsk figures for anti-corruption investigations.
Also on August 4, the Verkhovna Rada approved with 274 votes in favor (of 307 deputies in attendance, out of the 450 total) changes to the law on the Constitutional Court. Yushchenko immediately signed this bill into law. Under the changes, the Court does not have the right to review the constitutionality of the December 2004 amendments that have transferred some presidential powers to the parliament and the prime minister. With this development, Yushchenko loses the opportunity to appeal to the Constitutional Court for rescinding the December 2004 amendments. Until now, Yushchenko had insistently called for rescinding them, out of concern that they weaken the presidency unduly in favor of the prime minister and parliament.
Overall, Regions emerges as the clear winner while Yushchenko seems at this point to be losing support from most of Our Ukraine, and Our Ukraine risks losing much of its electorate if it joins the Regions-Socialist-Communist parliamentary coalition.
The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc offers a simple message: “betrayal” of the Orange Revolution, “political capitulation” by the president, and need for a “cross-party opposition” to organize around this bloc.
(Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, Ukrainian News Agency, Ukrainian Television Channel One and Channel Five, August 2-7; see EDM, August 7).