The pro-presidential majority in the Ukrainian parliament collapsed when 15 out of the 30 deputies in the moderate Democratic Initiatives-People’s Power faction defected.
The disintegration is a major blow to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s election campaign. Yanukovych described the move as “treacherous,” caused by the acute “politicization” of the 2004 presidential elections. “It is unpleasant for me to say this, but I have no choice but to do so: currently parliament is becoming an unproductive partner” of the government (Ukrayinska pravda, September 11). The move is particularly damaging as this faction is headed by Stepan Havrysh, Yanukovych’s official representative in the Central Election Commission.
Another 21 deputies in the Agrarian faction also withdrew from the parliamentary majority. This faction is led by Volodymyr Lytvyn, the speaker of parliament. Lytvyn was head of the presidential administration in 1997-2002 and head of the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc in the March 2002 parliamentary elections.
Along with these defections in parliament, Crimean branches of Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine and Medvedchuk’s SDPUo are defecting to challenger Viktor Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine.” Members of Yanukovych’s coalition, such as Ivan Czyzh’s All-Ukrainian Union of the Left — Justice, have also defected in the key Donetsk region, and the Democratic Party’s branch in the Crimea has also gone over to Yushchenko (Ukrayina moloda, July 15; Ukrayinska pravda, September 8).
Two factors explain Lytvyn’s disassociation from Yanukovych. First, Lytvyn is looking out for his personal survival in the post-Kuchma era. Lytvyn was present during the meeting recorded by presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko where President Kuchma ordered Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko to “deal” with opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. (Gongadze was abducted on September 16, 2000, and his decapitated body found two months later.) The Gongadze issue remains unresolved and is a major factor contributing towards Ukraine’s poor international image.
Second, moderates in the pro-presidential camp are perturbed at a number of strategic issues. Personal animosity between Lytvyn and current presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk is acute, especially since parliament condemned the blatant fraud in the April Mukachiv mayoral elections. Since summer Lytvyn has complained about Medvedchuk’s Social Democratic United Party (SDPUo) decision to support the Peasant Party as a pliant alternative to Lytvyn’s Agrarians, including attempts to poach its members.
The withdrawal of Lytvyn’s Agrarians has put a nail in the coffin of Kuchma and Medvedchuk’s second attempt to railroad constitutional changes through parliament before election day. In March the first defectors from the pro-presidential camp created the Center faction that led to the failure of the first attempt to switch key powers from the president to the prime minister.
Communist Party candidate Petro Symonenko, who supports the constitutional changes, has therefore criticized the disintegration of the pro-presidential parliamentary majority. Meanwhile, Yushchenko, who always believed the constitutional changes were meant to take executive power away from him in the event of his election victory, welcomed its disintegration (Interfax-Ukraine, September 10).
Moderates in the pro-presidential camp are also unhappy with the choice of presidential candidate Yanukovych, both because of his criminal record and his Donbas links. Yet a third factor is the manner in which Yanukovych is conducting his election campaign which, despite promises by him and President Kuchma to hold free and fair elections, has been dominated by massive violations.
Parliament therefore voted on September 7 for two resolutions. One resolution, which was supported by 390 deputies, called for an equal playing field for all presidential candidates, especially with regard to media access. Three television channels controlled by Medvedchuk (State Channel 1, 1+1, and Inter) provide positive coverage of Yanukovych and only highly negative coverage of Yushchenko. The second resolution, creating a commission to investigate campaign infractions, was only adopted because the Agrarians supported it.
Not surprisingly, the SDPUo was the least supportive of both resolutions, as they were tantamount to criticism of the presidential administration’s manipulative role in the election campaign. Yanukovych, whose faction also did not support the second resolution, ordered the Justice Ministry to provide a legal assessment of the parliamentary commission. The newly formed commission is headed by Lytvyn and includes one representative from each faction, the Central Election Commission, and different branches of the security forces.
Ukraine’s parliamentary majority has been a heterogeneous coalition cobbled together after the 2002 elections. Its thin majority could be seen in May 2002, when Lytvyn was elected parliamentary speaker by a one-vote margin, which resulted from the defection of one Communist deputy. The majority increased its size by another 15-20 deputies in 2002-2003 through intimidation and blackmail of opposition factions. These additional “recruits” were always likely to be the first to abandon the majority when the opportunity arose.
The hard core of the majority consists of presidential administration head Medvedchuk’s SDPUo and Prime Minister Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine party, representing the Kyiv and Donbas clans respectively. Together these two factions make up 103 out of the 183 seats of what is left of the parliamentary “majority.”
A third member of the “majority” is led by Serhiy Tyhipko, the head of Yanukovych’s campaign. Tyhipko’s Labor Ukraine party, although representing the important Dnipropetrovsk clan, is the smallest of the oligarchic parties with a bare 30,000 members. This faction adds another 30 deputies.
If elected president, Yushchenko has promised to create a broad new parliamentary majority (www.yushchenko.con.ua, September 9). This could include Tyhipko’s Labor Ukraine (Tyhipko was a member of the 2000-2001 Yushchenko government) but would certainly exclude the SDPUo. Former President Leonid Kravchuk, the SDPUo parliamentary faction leader, has already stated that the SDPUo is ready, if Yanukovych loses the elections, to move from a party-of-power to an opposition party (Hromadske Radio, July 9).
The remaining factions in the parliamentary “majority” are even more lukewarm members. The People’s Democratic Party (NDP) has a joint faction of 17 deputies with Anatoliy Kinakh’s Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (PPPU). This group unites Valeriy Pustovoitenko’s NDP, which officially supports Yanukovych but is highly unenthusiastic, with Kinakh, who is a presidential candidate himself. Kinakh is on record as stating that anybody with a criminal record (i.e. Yanukovych) should not be allowed to become president (Ukrayinska pravda, July 22, August 30). Not surprisingly, Yanukovych has launched proceedings to revoke Kinakh’s candidacy (Ukrayinska pravda, September 12).
The parliamentary “majority” is now down to only 183 deputies, compared to 198 members of the four opposition factions. The steadfast members of the pro-presidential camp are the SDPUo (40), Regions of Ukraine (63), and, to a lesser degree, Labor Ukraine (30). As one well-known commentator pointed out before these latest defections, “Viktor Yanukovych does not have real allies, except for the Regions of Ukraine Party” (Zerkalo nedeli, July 3-9). This is now even more the case with the disintegration of the pro-presidential parliamentary coalition.