The United Ukraine faction, set up under the guidance of President Leonid Kuchma, has gathered 178 deputies under its banners in Ukraine’s newly elected 450-seat Verkhovna Rada (parliament). This is far more than the next two largest factions–the center-right Our Ukraine (118 seats) and the Communist Party (63 seats)–can boast. Yet there are indications that this ostentatious unity of pro-government forces may soon fall apart.
On May 14, Volodymyr Rybak, the informal leader of the Donetsk clan deputies, told the newspaper Segodnya, believed to be the clan’s mouthpiece, that the Party of Regions was considering going out on its own. This party is one of five that make up the faction–along with the People’s Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Agrarian Party and Labor Ukraine. Rybak said that fifty deputies had agreed to join the Party of Regions group. He was cautious enough, however, to add that “setting up a faction is not at issue today because we ran together with the For United Ukraine bloc.”
Serhy Tyhypko, the leader of Labor Ukraine, which represents the Dnipropetrovsk clan, was more outspoken in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda on May 15. He forecast that United Ukraine (UU) would split into five small factions by July. Tyhypko, who spoke favorably of such a division, complained that “it is difficult to decide even on technical issues in such a huge faction” as the UU. He said that thirty-five deputies were ready to join Labor Ukraine’s separate faction.
Ivan Plyushch and Stepan Havrysh, former parliamentary speaker and deputy speaker, are threatening to chop at the UU from outside. These two chose not to join the UU after the election, despite the fact that the government had backed their single-seat district campaigns. Now they want to gather the deputies who ran on independent tickets into a new reform-oriented faction, Havrysh said on May 15, equidistant from both the UU and Our Ukraine. In an interview with Forum, Havrysh said that twenty-five deputies were ready to join his faction. Forum forecast that these would be UU defectors because, at the moment, there are no more than a dozen independents.
It is not easy to keep representatives of competing regional (Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk) and Kyiv elites in the same faction when loyalty to Kuchma is probably the only thing that binds them. Before the election, the For United Ukraine bloc was cemented by its leaders–Volodymyr Lytvyn, the manager of Kuchma’s office, and Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh, who ran as number two on the bloc list. After the election, Kinakh renounced his deputy mandate, preferring to remain prime minister. Lytvyn became the UU formal leader, but lost his job at the presidential office, because the Ukrainian constitution rules out combining work in parliament with other occupations. Lytvyn has apparently lost not only his former position, but also much of the leverage he had that enabled him to keep competing groups together. The UU division into several factions looks unavoidable (Segodnya, Ukrainska Pravda, Forum, Interfax-Ukraine, May 15).
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