The Ukrainian parliament elected on September 30 will gather for its first sitting on Friday, November 23. It should elect a speaker and start forming a new cabinet. The constitution requires the sitting cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to step down before the new parliament convenes. Yanukovych, however, stands a high chance of staying on as caretaker prime minister. Increasingly, it appears that Yulia Tymoshenko, the candidate for prime minister from the majority coalition of her eponymous bloc and President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine People’s Self-Defense (NUNS), may fail to muster support for her bid in parliament.
The NUNS-Tymoshenko Bloc coalition numbers 228 deputies, just two more than the 226 votes required to approve a prime minister in the 450-seat legislature. Tymoshenko fears, not without reason, that this may be too small a margin. She has alleged that the rival Party of Regions (PRU), led by Yanukovych, has tried to bribe her and Yushchenko’s deputies so they vote against her. “They offer $15-20 million dollars for betrayal,” she told the UT1 state TV. Tymoshenko said that by November 7 her rivals had unsuccessfully tried to bribe 56 deputies from her bloc. The PRU flatly denied the allegation.
Tymoshenko may fail to secure the coveted position even if no single deputy is bribed. Three NUNS deputies have refused to sign the coalition accord that provides for her to become prime minister and the distribution of posts in a new cabinet. These are Vasyl Petyovka and Ihor Kril, who are cronies of Viktor Baloha, the powerful head of Yushchenko’s administration, and Ivan Plyushch, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council under Yushchenko. Tymoshenko said in an interview with Inter that only “technical problems” prevented the three from signing the accord and that they should change their minds after they speak with Yushchenko.
Whether the three spoke with Yushchenko or not, they seem to be determined in their rejection of Tymoshenko’s bid. Plyushch has never concealed that he would prefer a grand coalition including the PRU to a coalition with Tymoshenko. She rejected this idea from the very start of the parliamentary election campaign. Kril has made it clear that he does not like Tymoshenko’s presidential ambitions. He told Inter that a new prime minister should agree not to compete with Yushchenko in the upcoming presidential election campaign, which should start in 2009. It is widely believed that Kril is Baloha’s mouthpiece. However, whether or not Yushchenko shares Baloha’s point of view remains unclear.
Yuriy Lutsenko, leader of Self-Defense, the junior partner of Our Ukraine in the NUNS bloc, has condemned the “too independent and ambitious” threesome, saying that they were discrediting NUNS. He told Kommersant that if “pluralism of opinions” continues in Our Ukraine, his party, in which “democracy is manageable, which means it is effective,” would part ways with “such anarchists.”
Speaking to Channel 5, Lutsenko accused Baloha of using the deputies linked with him in order to undermine the coalition. Lutsenko called on Yushchenko to order the dissenters to sign the coalition accord. Lutsenko, however, conceded that fears of rivalry between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko in the upcoming presidential election are not groundless. He said NUNS and the Tymoshenko Bloc should back a single candidate if they manage to form a stable coalition, and hinted that he may also run for president if Tymoshenko does so.
The votes of Plyushch, Kril, and Petyovka may be decisive for Tymoshenko’s bid, as the Lytvyn Bloc has refused to join the coalition. NUNS and Tymoshenko hoped that the team of Volodymyr Lytvyn, who was parliament speaker in 2002-2006, would be their ally in parliament against the PRU. In that case Tymoshenko would have definitely mustered more than 226 votes for her bid for prime minister. Lytvyn had been reportedly offered the post of parliament speaker in exchange for backing Tymoshenko, but NUNS apparently said no, as that position had been promised to Our Ukraine chairman Vyacheslav Kyrylenko.
In several interviews for the press an offended Lytvyn repeatedly said that he did not want his bloc to be viewed by bigger parties as “a poor relative” called to “finish leftovers from their table.” Moreover, he announced on November 18 that his bloc would not join any coalition whatsoever in the new parliament and that it might refuse to support any candidate for speaker. Lytvyn warned that Yushchenko might be tempted to disband parliament again if there is deadlock over the appointment of a new prime minister. This may help Yushchenko burnish his image as a strong leader for his re-election bid, Lytvyn suggested.
(UT1, November 2, 8; Ukrayinska pravda, November 7; Inter TV, November 11, 18; Kommersant Ukraine; Channel 5, November 16, 18; NTN TV, November 18)