Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has bent to pressure from President Viktor Yushchenko and agreed to an early parliamentary election. This decision has been essentially a compromise between the two main players, as Yanukovych’s junior coalition partners — the Socialists and the Communists –– have only grudgingly accepted it. The main question now is when the election will be held, as Yanukovych and Yushchenko disagree on the timing. Yushchenko insists on July, while Yanukovych prefers October.
It took the two sides a month of difficult talks, and mutual accusations of judicial pressure and disrespect for the constitution, before they finally came to an agreement. Yushchenko issued two decrees disbanding parliament — on April 2 and April 26 — and scheduling a snap election, first on May 27 and then changed to June 24 (see EDM, May 3). The pro-Yanukovych parliamentary majority refused to dissolve and appealed both of Yushchenko’s decrees to the Constitutional Court. However, the court, paralyzed by accusations of corruption against judges and the subsequent dismissal of two of them by Yushchenko, has failed to deliver any verdict.
On May 4 Yushchenko and Yanukovych broke the news of a compromise that surprised the journalists gathered near Yushchenko’s office. “We came to the conclusion that there is no other way to settle the crisis but to hold a free and fair election,” Yanukovych said.
At a press conference on the same day, Yushchenko said that it would be up to a working group consisting of high-ranking representatives of the rival camps to agree on the legal basis for the election and subsequent steps. Yushchenko said that once the group has come up with its recommendations, the opposition, which walked out of parliament this past March, would reconvene to pass the necessary laws.
First and foremost, this legislation should include amendments to the state budget, as Yanukovych’s team has argued that an early election cannot be held without parliament authorizing the allocation of funds for it. Further on the agenda would be amendments to the law on the Cabinet of Ministers (the current one, passed early this year, significantly cuts presidential authority), the ban on parliamentarians changing factions (the migration of a group of deputies to Yanukovych’s camp prompted Yushchenko to call an early election in the first place), and possibly a new constitution. (Yushchenko has been unhappy with the constitutional reform of December 2004, which increased parliament’s influence on the government at the expense of presidential authority.)
Yushchenko said that the snap election would be held 60 days after he signs the necessary decree. This decree will be signed once parliament has passed all the needed laws. Meanwhile, Yushchenko’s April 26 decree rescheduling the election to June 24 remains in force, although it is null and void de facto.
Yanukovych has apparently found it hard to explain the agreement to his supporters and allies. In a televised address to the nation on May 4, he explained his compromise with Yushchenko by the need to prevent a split in the country. “They [Yushchenko and the opposition] were ready to split the country,” he said, “to throw the country into a whirlpool of civil disorder.” Meanwhile, rank-and-file Socialist MP Vasyl Volha said that the agreement was “a betrayal of the constitution,” and a disgruntled Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz, speaking on May 7, suggested that Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), rather than agreeing to the election, should have simply abandoned its junior coalition partners and formed a coalition with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine.
The PRU has told the thousands of its supporters who have been paid to come to Kyiv and demonstrate the parliamentary majority’s strength to Yushchenko to pack their things and go home. The PRU also said that the demand to hold a presidential election simultaneously with the parliamentary one has been dropped. This was apparently part of the agreement with Yushchenko. Yanukovych, meanwhile, has left Ukraine, officially to treat an old knee injury in Spain.
The working group failed to come up with a package of bills for discussion in parliament by May 8-9, as originally scheduled by Yushchenko and Yanukovych. Yushchenko’s team has accused the Communists and Socialists of torpedoing the work of the group in order to postpone the early election and possibly disrupt a compromise reached with Yanukovych. The Communists and Socialists argue that they only want to take time to amend the constitution in order to make the election legally possible. The current constitution, they insist, does not allow the president to call an early election under the prevailing situation.
Yushchenko insists that the early election should be held in the middle of July at the latest. He says the government cannot afford a long period of uncertainty. Yanukovych, however, says that the election should be called around the middle of October. His forecast looks more realistic, bearing in mind the position of his coalition partners who are reluctant to make more concessions to Yushchenko.
(UT1, Interfax-Ukraine, May 4; Channel 5, May 7, 8)