Parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn’s People’s Party of Ukraine (PPU), formerly the Agrarian Party, may fill the niche of the non-Communist opposition to the new authorities ahead of the spring 2006 parliamentary elections. While the parties of the defeated elite that had generally been expected to form an opposition to President Viktor Yushchenko — the Party of Regions, the Social Democratic Party United, and Labor Ukraine — are watching as their ranks shrink, the PPU is gaining strength. President Yushchenko respects it as a party that was the first to defect from Leonid Kuchma’s camp between the first and the second rounds of the presidential elections last year, which was a very difficult time for Yushchenko. This explains why many defectors from the old establishment view the PPU as a safe harbor. Between December and February, Lytvyn’s faction in parliament became the fourth largest, its membership growing from 20 to 33 deputies.
Relations between the PPU and Yushchenko’s People’s Strength coalition were very good immediately after the Orange Revolution, and the PPU was offered two regional governor posts. But one of the two, Khmelnytsky governor Vitaly Oluyko, tendered his resignation on February 9, just five days after his appointment. His move was prompted by protests in Khmelnytsky that were organized by the local representatives of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, members who recalled that Oluyko had backed Yushchenko’s rival, Viktor Yanukovych, going into the second round of the elections last November. Yushchenko accepted Oluyko’s resignation on February 14. Then the other PPU regional governor, Serhy Kasyanov of Dnipropetrovsk, came under scrutiny. On February 15, People’s Strength representatives in Dnipropetrovsk appealed to Yushchenko to fire Kasyanov. The charge against Kasyanov was the same as against Oluyko — supporting the wrong candidate last year.
On February 21 Lytvyn protested against Oluyko’s dismissal and the attack against Kasyanov. Addressing a press conference in Kyiv, Lytvyn also recalled the accusations Justice Minister Roman Zvarych levied against legislator Ihor Yeremeyev, namely trying to compromise his ministry by offering his wife’s company to participate in shady oil trade deals (see EDM, February 23). Yeremeyev happens to be the PPU parliamentary faction’s leader. “These are all parts of a campaign against me,” Lytvyn said. “This is just the beginning.” Lytvyn accused the government of launching a “hidden lustration” campaign. He also suggested that State Customs Service chief Mykola Kalensky — another official linked to the PPU — should resign following Yushchenko’s earlier accusations of corruption against unnamed top customs officials. Kalensky did not heed Lytvyn’s advice, but on February 25 Yushchenko fired him.
Kasyanov has not been dismissed so far, but it must be very difficult for him to preserve the post of Dnipropetrovsk governor now that Yushchenko’s people in the region have turned against him. He is, however, not Lytvyn’s last man in the executive. The Ukrainian Border Service is headed by none other than Lytvyn’s younger brother, Mykola Lytvyn, who has served in this position since 2003. It remains to be seen for how long the two will remain in Yushchenko’s government.
Meanwhile rumors have started to spread that Yushchenko’s allies, the Socialist Party in particular, are planning to oust Lytvyn from the post of speaker by the fall. Commenting on this, Lytvyn said he doubted that his foes would be successful. The government coalition accuses Lytvyn of opposing the formation of a pro-government majority in the legislature, suspecting that it would be easy for Lytvyn to divide and rule parliament in the absence of a stable majority. Commenting on this accusation in last week’s interview with Kievsky Telegraf, Lytvyn suggested that Our Ukraine, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialists should blame themselves if they fail to form a majority, as they did not offer posts in the government to other parties.
Lytvyn obviously believes that his PPU is being pushed into the opposition, but he is cautious about this, apparently hoping that fences may yet be mended. In the same interview, he avoided directly answering the question of whether the PPU would take the opposition slot. To all appearances the PPU will eventually be forced to do so. Many people in Yushchenko’s team deeply mistrust Lytvyn, despite his constructive behavior during the Orange Revolution. They do not want to forget that Lytvyn was the main adversary of Yushchenko in the 2002 parliamentary elections and that one of the voices on the scandalous audiotapes implicating Leonid Kuchma in the kidnapping of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000 is believed to belong to Lytvyn, then head of Kuchma’s administration.
On February 24 the Obkom web site, quoting Lytvyn’s press secretary, Ihor Storozhuk, reported an appointment that will hardly increase the Yushchenko team’s trust in Lytvyn. According to Obkom, on January 27 Lytvyn picked Serhy Lyovochkin, the former first assistant to Kuchma, to become his adviser. Lyovochkin is believed to be an intimate friend of the Kuchma family.
(UNIAN, February 9, 14; UT1, February 15; Inter TV, February 21; proUA.com, February 23; obkom.net.ua, Den, February 24; Kievsky Telegraf, proUA.com, February 25.)