On May 28, the former head of the presidential office, Volodymyr Lytvyn, became speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Hennady Vasiliev, a representative of the Donetsk group in the faction Lytvyn chaired, United Ukraine (UU), was elected first deputy speaker, and Oleksandr Zinchenko of the United Social Democratic Party (USDP) became deputy speaker. For the three, 226 votes in the 450-seat Rada were cast. This fact alone reflects how bitterly contested the election was: 225 votes would not have sufficed.
It took the Rada two weeks of bargaining to elect a speaker, because neither the opposition nor pro-government forces could muster a majority. Much depended on the position of Rada’s second-largest faction–former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine. Had it joined with the largest faction, United Ukraine, the electing a speaker would have been easy. But Yushchenko was ready to back Lytvyn only on the condition that Premier Anatoly Kinakh would resign and the UU would back someone from Our Ukraine for the prime minister’s post. (Yushchenko denied the rumors saying that he wanted this for himself).
When the UU refused to negotiate Kinakh’s resignation, Our Ukraine formed a tactical alliance with three opposition forces–the Communists (CPU), the Socialists and Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc. On May 23, when a joint package of candidacies of the four parties–in which Communist Adam Martynyuk ran for speaker, and Our Ukraine’s Roman Bezsmertny and Tymoshenko ran for deputy speakers–was put to vote, it seemed as if the opposition would win hands down because the four factions numbered more than 226. But the CPU failed to cast their ballots on time. Mutual recriminations between Our Ukraine and the CPU ensued. The four managed to overcome their differences and agreed to put the same package to vote again. But they lost precious time.
The UU and USDP having already registered their joint package for the May 28 vote, the opposition candidates were to be voted for only if the candidacies of Lytvyn, Vasiliev and Zinchenko had failed. But they were elected, despite the UU and USDP votes numbering less than the required 226, because a group of Our Ukraine deputies ended up casting unexpected votes for rival candidates. On May 29, Yushchenko expelled the dissenters from his faction. The CPU expelled the former Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, who had also dissented and voted for Lytvyn.
The opposition parties refused to congratulate Lytvyn on his election. They accused the government of armtwisting to muster votes for its package. “Through pressure, blackmail, bribery and threats, the government managed to push through its candidates,” said an unusually outspoken Yushchenko, addressing the Rada on May 29. The dissenters expelled from Our Ukraine–many of them representatives of big business–apparently had no choice but to vote for Lytvyn, fearing that their enterprises would suffer at the hands of the tax authorities and the police. This had happened to others. Kuchma also reportedly personally coaxed hesitating lawmakers into voting for Lytvyn. Yushchenko said that democracy lost. “The Rada has now turned into a division of the presidential administration,” he said. Tymoshenko, in her address to the Rada, went so far as to threaten to call people to the streets.
Lytvyn will not have an easy time presiding over a legislature in which passions run so high and his supporters do not have a clear majority. It will be even more difficult when the UU falls apart. This, it is generally accepted, is inevitable, and in the short term. The likely aftermath entails five or six smaller factions based on regional and clan interests. It is not unlikely that some of these may side with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, which professes the same liberal economic values as many of the present-day UU members. In this case Lytvyn would suffer. SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have already made it clear that they will try to depose Lytvyn at the earliest possible opportunity.
The speaker’s race showed that even such staunch ideological rivals as the Communists and Our Ukraine can forget their differences when it comes to opposing a presidential appointee. The apparent stability of the Kuchma regime may be deceptive (Ukrainian media, May 23-29).
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