Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who is reluctant to approve the parliamentary majority’s choice for prime minister — his 2004 presidential election rival Viktor Yanukovych — has decided to explain his reluctance to the nation. Yushchenko has made public a set of conditions, making it clear that he will call new elections if Yanukovych and his allies do not meet them. Yushchenko has the constitutional right to call early elections after July 25, when two months have elapsed since the entire cabinet resigned and no replacement has been formed (see EDM, July 26). He gave a press conference on July 26 and convened an unprecedented roundtable meeting with all major parties on July 27 to explain his position.
Speaking on July 26, Yushchenko reiterated that he would not hurry in appointing Yanukovych, as the constitution gives him until August 2. Yushchenko made it clear that he would use this time to persuade the parliamentary majority and Yanukovych to accept the conditions that, Yushchenko believes, he has the right to set as the winner of the 2004 presidential election. He also hinted that the format of the majority may be changed, as his Our Ukraine bloc is in talks with Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), about possibly joining the majority.
Yushchenko urged the future government to continue Ukraine’s current domestic and foreign political course, which includes market transformation and European integration, and urged preservation of sovereignty — which reflects popular fears about the PRU’s pro-Moscow sympathies. Yushchenko also repeated his earlier demands to seat the Constitutional Court and revise the constitutional reform of 2004. Those changes, he believes, unbalanced the political system by inconsistently depriving the president of a set of levers, such as giving him no right to dismiss the defense minister and foreign minister, whom he appoints.
Yushchenko confirmed the rumor that he would like to appoint the interior minister in addition to appointing foreign minister, defense minister, prosecutor-general, and the Security Service head — all of which are up to the president to nominate, according to the amended constitution. Other top posts are up to the majority to fill. Yushchenko makes no secret of wanting to keep Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, whom the PRU dislikes for his radicalism during and after the Orange Revolution of December 2004.
Yushchenko repeated his main conditions to Yanukovych on the following day, when he gathered parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz and the leaders of all five parliamentary factions for an unprecedented roundtable discussion that was broadcast live on several TV channels for several hours. Yushchenko suggested signing a document that would confirm the need for national unity and list the points on which the main political players agree, preparing the grounds for a coalition possibly wider than the one formed around Yanukovych.
Roman Bezsmertny, the formal leader of Our Ukraine, and Yushchenko listed several positions on which the Ukrainian government should be based, according to Our Ukraine, and some of which may be hard for Yanukovych to accept. These are European and Euro-Atlantic integration, including EU and NATO membership, and dropping the idea of raising the status of the Russian language.
Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous bloc, was the only political leader present at the discussion to reject the unity declaration proposed by Yushchenko. Tymoshenko, who prefers dissolution of the parliament and early elections to a Prime Minister Yanukovych, refused to sign the text offered by Yushchenko, urged her counterparts not to be afraid of early elections, and quoted figures from a public opinion poll suggesting that Ukrainians are unhappy with the pro-Yanukovych majority.
Yanukovych sounded pacifying in his speech, clearly signaling a readiness for compromise with Yushchenko. He thanked Yushchenko for not taking sides in the current crisis, and he went as far as to praise the ideals of the Orange Revolution, in which he was Yushchenko’s main protagonist. When Communist leader Petro Symonenko questioned the need for Euro-Atlantic integration, spelled out in the text offered for signing, and Moroz backed him, Yanukovych kept silent.
Several hours before the roundtable, the anti-crisis coalition comprised of the PRU, the Socialists, and the Communists officially asked Our Ukraine to start negotiations to expand the coalition. Also on July 27, Our Ukraine for the first time openly recognized that talks with the pro-Yanukovych majority were underway. Outgoing Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, an Our Ukraine leader who has consistently backed the idea of a grand coalition between Our Ukraine and the PRU, said at the roundtable that Our Ukraine should join the majority and form the next cabinet on the condition that the Communists should be dropped from the majority as a party whose ideology is at variance with Yushchenko’s. He said that the Communists should be compensated for that by allowing them control of the parliamentary committees whose chairmanships they secured as part of the anti-crisis coalition deal.
(Channel 5, Segodnya, July 26, 27)