President Viktor Yushchenko’s camp in parliament, as well as the party whose honorary chairman he is — People’s Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU) — may split. Not all of Yushchenko’s supporters have put up with the idea of co-habitation with, let alone participation in, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The split may strengthen the parliamentary opposition — the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) — whose allies the dissenters will probably become.
The pro-Yushchenko bloc Our Ukraine — which controls more than 80 seats in parliament — gave only 30 votes in favor of Yanukovych when parliament voted to appoint him prime minister on August 4. This tepid support comes despite the fact that Yanukovych’s cabinet included several individuals from Our Ukraine (NU). Shortly after that NU member Mykola Katerynchuk insisted that those members of NSNU who had backed Yanukovych in the vote should resign from NSNU. Most of Katerynchuk’s colleagues publicly criticized him for that statement, including NSNU’s formal leader Roman Bezsmertny, and the majority of the party probably does not share Katerynchuk’s position. At the same time, Katerynchuk’s weight within Yushchenko’s team should not be underestimated, as he chairs the executive board of NSNU, which is the core of the Our Ukraine bloc.
Tymoshenko hailed Katerynchuk’s position and urged setting up an opposition inter-faction association in parliament that would include defectors from those parliamentary factions that back the cabinet of Yanukovych. This association would be allied with BYT, which numbers 124, thereby preventing the parliamentary majority from controlling more than 299 seats. (An alliance that controls 300 seats, according to the constitution, can override the president’s vetoes and amend the constitution.)
Oleh Bilorus, a leading member of BYT, estimated that more than 40 parliamentarians may defect from NU, but this is apparently wishful thinking. Several other MPs, including Katerynchuk himself, said that no more than 15 people might leave Our Ukraine if it joins the majority coalition in parliament, which currently consists of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), the Socialists, and the Communists. Most of the rebels, however, are likely to come from the ranks of NU’s second largest component — the People’s Movement (Rukh) — and the tiny Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, rather than NSNU.
Rumors persist that the dissenters, unsure about the status of an amorphous inter-faction association, are about to set up a new party. The Ukrainian edition of the Russian Kommersant daily has claimed that former prime minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Yushchenko’s aide Ivan Vasyunyk, Katerynchuk, former deputy prime minister Ivan Kyrylenko, and Volodymyr Stretovych, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union — another component of NU — are working to set up a new party. Like NSNU, this party would support Yushchenko but it would not back Yanukovych’s cabinet. Katerynchuk told Kommersant that the party may elect as its leader businessman Valery Khoroshkovsky, a former economics minister who quit the first cabinet of Yanukovych in early 2004, or Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who quit the Socialist Party when it decided to back Yanukovych in July, or Serhy Tyhypko, who left politics after heading Yanukovych’s presidential election headquarters in late 2004.
Bezsmertny flatly dismissed the report about a new pro-Yushchenko party, but he advised Katerynchuk and other dissenters to quit Our Ukraine. Bezsmertny announced on September 4 that NU had decided to start talks to join the PRU-dominated coalition. He, however, did not rule out the possible failure of the talks. In this case, Bezsmertny said, ministers representing Our Ukraine would resign from Yanukovych’s cabinet. These are Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Emergencies Minister Viktor Baloha, Culture Minister Ihor Likhovy, Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko, and Family and Youth Minister Yuriy Pavlenko.
One of the main stumbling blocks to a formal grand coalition including both the PRU and NU is Our Ukraine’s rejection of an alliance with the Communists (CPU). The CPU formed the anti-crisis coalition in July together with the Socialists and the PRU, but it did not sign the August 3 memorandum that urged the PRU, NU, the Socialists, and the CPU to create a national-unity grand coalition. This may serve as formal grounds for excluding the CPU from a new parliamentary majority.
The PRU and the SPU insist that the national-unity coalition should be essentially the coalition including the CPU plus NU. Bezsmertny has apparently agreed to this, but more radical members of NU argue that it would be hard for them to explain to their predominantly pro-Western and anti-Communist electorate why the party they voted for had joined an alliance with the CPU. At the first round of the talks on a grand coalition on September 6, NU negotiators reportedly did not insist on excluding the CPU from the majority, so dissent within Our Ukraine is set to grow.
(Ekspres, August 10; Kievskie vedomosti, August 17; Kommersant Ukraine, September 1; UNIAN, September 3; Interfax-Ukraine, September 4; NTN TV, Ukrayinska pravda, September 5; Channel 5, September 5, 6)