Tables have turned in Ukrainian politics as a result of the March parliamentary election and the ensuing formation of a broad coalition in parliament. There is no longer a strong left-wing opposition: the Socialists have been entrenched in the government since early 2005, and the Communists are no longer in the opposition to the government either. Our Ukraine (NU) is not yet part of the majority in parliament de jure, but it remains part of the ruling elite de facto, having delegated its members to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s cabinet and controlling several regional councils. The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) has replaced its main opponent, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), in the niche of the main opposition party. It is set to become a magnet for smaller parties, so a bigger opposition force may be formed, with an ideology yet to be defined.
The BYT was the only one of the five parties elected to parliament in March that did not sign the national unity declaration offered by President Viktor Yushchenko on August 3. The declaration formulated the main principles for a new coalition government, so by refusing to sign it Tymoshenko made it clear that her party would henceforth be firmly in opposition the government.
Tymoshenko does not conceal that her ultimate goal is to win the presidential election due in 2009. In the meantime, she urges an early parliamentary election, maintaining that the current parliamentary majority does not represent the people, but “clans and bandits.” Another declared goal is the reversal of the constitutional reform of 2004, which came into force in 2006, boosting the authority of parliament at the expense of the president. Tymoshenko prefers a stronger presidency and a weaker legislature. Speaking in an interview with Vysoky zamok daily, she said that the PRU wants to further entrench the reform by passing to parliament, rather than the right to elect the president. “This would make them uncontrollable,” she warned.
As parliament reconvened after summer vacation on September 4, Tymoshenko launched a campaign there and in the media against utility hikes planned by the cabinet and against what she sees as the monopolization of the domestic natural gas market by the “oligarchs” linked to the RosUkrEnergo intermediary in gas supplies from Russia and Central Asia. This may not be enough to stir large-scale popular protests against the government, but this should certainly make Tymoshenko more popular in a country where utilities have been traditionally cheap.
The BYT faction in the 450-seat parliament numbers 120 members, but it may grow at the expense of those individuals who, for various reasons, fell out with the government camp. Ukrainian laws do not allow them to formally join the rival camp, so they can join forces with the BYT only informally, by voting in concert with the it. Tymoshenko has suggested building an opposition inter-faction association, which those members of Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, the PRU and, theoretically, the Communist Party, who disagree with their parties’ policies, would be welcome to join. Deputy Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov has said that 10 people who represent his People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh) in NU may join the association.
Another party that may join the BYT, if only for next elections, as it is outside parliament, is the liberal Reforms and Order (RiP) party of former finance minister Viktor Pynzenyk. RiP announced that it would go into the opposition on September 11, and Volodymyr Filenko, a leading member of RiP, told Ekonomicheskie izvestiya that RiP has been in unification talks with the BYT. RiP used to be part of Our Ukraine; in 2005 it drifted towards the BYT, but its talks on forming a bloc with Tymoshenko for the March 2006 election fell through, and RiP, running in the election as partners of the radical youth Pora party, did not make it into parliament.
Another former element of NU, the nationalist Ukrainian People’s Party of Yuriy Kostenko, which also lost the election, has chosen a different tactic. In a series of newspaper interviews in August and September Kostenko advertised his party as the nucleus of a new right-wing force being formed. Just like the BYT, Kostenko’s party demands the dissolution of the current parliament as it “represents the interests of big capital, rather than the nation,” he told Stolichnye novosti. But Kostenko rules out a union with the BYT because it is a left-of-center force, so its ideology is fundamentally different. Kostenko also has ruled out a union with the dissenters from Our Ukraine (see EDM, September 7).
On September 12 yet another loser in March, the Popular Party of former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn — formerly the Agrarian Party — announced it was going into the opposition. It remains to be seen whether it will join Tymoshenko or remain independent, making Ukraine’s opposition more fragmented.
(Stolichnye novosti, August 15; Interfax-Ukraine, September 5; Vysoky zamok, September 10; Ekonomicheskie izvestiya, September 12; Channel 5, September 12, 13)