The coalition of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) and President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) no longer has a majority in the Ukrainian parliament. Two deputies quit the coalition, so it controls 225 seats in the 450-seat chamber, one seat short of a majority. As a result, parliament has been paralyzed, and the fate of the Tymoshenko government is in the hands of Yushchenko and his team in parliament. Should even a small group from NUNS back a no-confidence motion against Tymoshenko, her government will be doomed.
Two factors have led to this situation. First is the confrontation between the Tymoshenko and Yushchenko teams, which view each other as rivals in the presidential election campaign, which will start next year. Second is an imperfect constitutional reform of 2004-2006, which institutionally weakened the president but stopped short of transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary republic, thus making incessant conflicts between the president and the prime minister, who is elected by parliament, almost inevitable.
On June 6 Ihor Rybakov from the BYT and Yury But from NUNS declared that they were quitting the ruling coalition, although they stayed in their parties. They explained their decision by saying that the Tymoshenko government was not doing enough to fight corruption and blamed her for the confrontations with Yushchenko. The opposition expected parliament speaker Arseny Yatsenyuk, who belongs to NUNS, to announce that the coalition no longer existed, as it no longer controlled the majority (Channel 5, June 6).
Such an announcement would have given formal grounds to start talks on the formation of a new coalition, with or without the BYT. In the latter case, Tymoshenko would lose the post of prime minister. Viktor Yanukovych, a former prime minister and the leader of the Party of Regions (PRU), the major opposition party, declared on the same day that the creation of a new coalition would be a better option than an early parliamentary election; and he signaled his readiness to return to the prime minister’s chair (UT1 TV, June 6).
Yatsenyuk, however, refused to pronounce the coalition dead. This is because BYT and NUNS insisted that the coalition still existed de jure. They pointed to a constitutional provision saying that the parliamentary coalition consisted of party caucuses rather than individual deputies. Rybakov and But did not leave the respective caucuses of the BYT and NUNS de jure, so their de facto quitting the coalition had no legal consequences, according to BYT and NUNS representatives (Interfax-Ukraine, June 6).
When the PRU officially demanded that Yatsenyuk clearly state whether the coalition still existed, he declared that it did exist since neither of the two constituent caucuses had left the coalition (Interfax-Ukraine, June 17). The PRU then requested the Constitutional Court (CC) to rule on the legitimacy of a ruling coalition that did not control a majority in parliament (Channel 5, June 18). Now that the question is with the CC, much depends on Yushchenko, as it is widely believed that the court is loyal to him after he expelled several rebel judges from the CC in 2007.
Yushchenko is hesitating. If the existing coalition falls apart, a new one would be formed either by NUNS and the PRU or by the BYT and the PRU. In the case of a BYT-PRU coalition, Yushchenko would lose all levers of influence on the government. According to the well-informed weekly Zerkalo Nedeli, the PRU would be prepared to form a coalition with Yushchenko’s NUNS only if Yanukovych returns to the post of prime minister (Zerkalo Nedeli, June 21).
Prime Minister Yanukovych might be worse for Yushchenko than Prime Minister Tymoshenko. First, Yanukovych, like Tymoshenko, is a potentially strong presidential candidate, and his return to the post of prime minister would only strengthen his chances for victory in the upcoming race. Second, institutional rivalry between Yanukovych and Yushchenko was as bitter in 2006 and 2007, when Yanukovych was prime minister, as it is now between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko. Third, Yushchenko’s electorate would not understand a union with Yanukovych, who was Yushchenko’s main rival in the 2004 presidential election.
While the CC and Yushchenko deliberate, the PRU acts. On June 20 it came up with a motion requesting Tymoshenko to report on her government’s performance to parliament (ITAR-TASS, June 20). The PRU expects her to report in mid-July. Serhy Lyovochkin, one of the PRU leaders, told Segodnya, a newspaper close to the PRU, that the report should be followed by a no-confidence motion against Tymoshenko “for incompetent and unprofessional actions leading to a destruction of the Ukrainian economy.” The PRU hopes that the no-confidence motion would be supported by the two smaller of parliament’s five caucuses–the Lytvyn Bloc and the Communists–and people from the BYT and NUNS like But and Rybakov (Segodnya, June 21). This should be enough to collect the 226 votes needed to oust Tymoshenko.