Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 61

As Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko prepares to visit Washington, DC next week, his support in the Ukrainian parliament grows even stronger. The camp that supported the Kuchma regime has shrunk, after several groups defected from it to join the factions linked to parliamentary chair Volodymyr Lytvyn. The Yushchenko’s faction, Our Ukraine, has consolidated, choosing a liberal ideology based on free markets and is starting to shake off its right-wing nationalist element. The parliamentary opposition to the government now consists of former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine, former presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk’s Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United) (SDPUo), and the Communists.

The establishment of Viktor Yushchenko’s new party, the People’s Union Our Ukraine, earlier this month has strengthened Yushchenko’s faction in parliament. From a coalition of several party groups cemented by Yushchenko’s charisma, it has been transformed into an alliance between the People’s Union and the moderately conservative People’s Movement of Ukraine (PMU). This has been the result of the dissolution of three groupings within the faction — the Razom (Together) group of former businessmen, the center-left Solidarity, and the liberal Our Ukraine (formerly Reforms and Order) — and the defection of the right-wing Ukrainian People’s Party (UNP).

Most of Razom’s members have become government ministers, leaving parliament. Solidarity, the party of National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, has merged with the People’s Union. Viktor Pynzenyk’s Our Ukraine is about to do the same. And the UNP left the Our Ukraine faction for ideological reasons, according to its leader, Yuriy Kostenko. The UNP, he explained in recent interviews, is a right-wing nationalist party, but the People’s Union is a liberal formation, which makes a merger impossible. Kostenko pledged that his party would continue to back the Yushchenko government. At the same time, the UNP may remain outside Yushchenko’s coalition in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Kostenko views the PMU and another right-wing group, Sobor, as possible allies for the upcoming electoral campaign. This means that the PMU’s defection from Our Ukraine is not ruled out either.

For the moment, Our Ukraine’s 85 deputies, the UNP’s 22, the 24 seats of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc, the 17 deputies from First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh’s Industrialists and Entrepreneurs group, and the 28-strong Socialist Party form the pro-government camp in parliament. This camp may grow, given the high popularity of its leaders, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. The newly elected leader of the Our Ukraine faction, Mykola Martynenko, has predicted that Our Ukraine will grow to 100-120 members in the near future.

The second strongest camp for the moment is Lytvyn’s. Currently it consists of the 31-strong People’s Party (not to be confused with the UNP) and the 19-strong Democratic Ukraine faction. Three more factions — United Ukraine (22), Democratic Initiatives (14), and Union (13) — are viewed as satellites. This camp is set to grow at the expense of the People’s Democratic Party of former prime minister Valeriy Pustovoitenko, which currently numbers 11 deputies and is on the verge of dissolution. The groups flocking under Lytvyn’s wing had once been parts of former President Leonid Kuchma’s mega-faction, United Ukraine, which broke apart at the end of 2002. The People’s Party is the former Agrarian Party, which Lytvyn hijacked from the previous government’s agricultural bosses. Democratic Ukraine was formed on the ruins of the once largest pro-Kuchma faction, Labor Ukraine, in January. Democratic Ukraine is headed by the former leader of Labor Ukraine, Ihor Sharov, and includes Kuchma’s son-in-law, the steel and media tycoon Viktor Pinchuk. Yushchenko, speaking at his People’s Union founding congress in early March, named Lytvyn’s party as a possible coalition partner for the 2006 elections, but Sharov revealed in a recent interview with Glavred that he is going to persuade Lytvyn to form a separate list for the elections. The list may include Pinchuk, but there will be no place for Kuchma in it, Sharov said.

The three factions in the opposition to Yushchenko have been shrinking. Between early December 2004 and late March 2005, membership in the Communist faction dropped from 59 to 56, Regions of Ukraine shrank from 62 to 53 deputies, and the SDPUo shrank from 34 to 21 members. There has been little coordination among the three opposition groups so far. The March 25 voting on amendments to the state 2005 budget demonstrated that it would be too early to speak of an opposition alliance, let alone a united opposition. Only Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine behaved as real opposition, refusing to take part in the voting. But the SDPUo and the Communists voted “in favor.” As a result, support for the budget amendments providing for an increase in social spending and cancellation of tax breaks was very high — 376 ballots “in favor” in the 450-seat body (428 deputies were present during the voting).

(Interfax-Ukraine, December 3, March 16;, January 20; Kievsky Telegraf, March 4, 26; Den, March 15;, March 22;, March 25)