The People’s Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU) political party has ignored President Viktor Yushchenko’s call for change. The second stage of the NSNU’s third congress on November 11 failed to replace the party’s leadership, although Yushchenko — the party’s honorary chair — had urged this at the first stage, on October 21. This has been another defeat for Yushchenko, who has lost all political battles since becoming president in 2005. Ukraine plunged into a government crisis in 2005, Yushchenko’s party lost the March 2006 parliamentary election, and most recently he lost control over the cabinet. Now Yushchenko is losing control over his own party.
Yushchenko apparently had lost the battle before it even started. He did not turn up for the congress on November 11, preferring to attend a concert by an Italian pop star with his family instead. Prior to the congress, the party rejected Yushchenko’s proposal to dismiss the head of NSNU council, Roman Bezsmertny, who is the formal leader of the party and whom Yushchenko reportedly holds responsible for the party’s defeats.
Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko turned down proposals to head the NSNU. Addressing the delegates, however, he did not rule out the possibility that he might agree to head a new reformist coalition, possibly including the NSNU, which may happen no earlier than spring 2007. Another individual that Yushchenko reportedly considered for Bezsmertny’s replacement, the first deputy head of Yushchenko’s secretariat Arseny Yatsenyuk, like Yushchenko, ignored the congress.
The leader of the NSNU’s reformist wing, Mykola Katerynchuk, tried to orchestrate a coup within the party, but the votes of the west Ukrainian party cells that backed him were not sufficient. Katerynchuk’s people managed to push through a motion of no confidence in the party’s leadership — 678 delegates out of the 1,273 present voted for it. But the old leadership, which is dominated by a group of big businessmen who are jocularly referred to as “the dear friends,” stayed. The congress voted for increasing the membership of the NSNU council from 185 to 214, but the new council consists mostly of the same old faces, including the “dear friends.”
For now, Bezsmertny remains council chairman. Addressing the congress, Bezsmertny rejected the criticism that Yushchenko had directed against him and the “dear friends.” Instead, the former head of the presidential secretariat, Oleh Rybachuk, and former prime minister Yuriy Yekhanurov were blamed for the party’s defeats. Bezsmertny also hinted that Yushchenko should have been more active in the parliamentary election campaign if he wanted his party to win.
Katerynchuk gave up his party membership on November 13. He said his ambition is to set up a new pro-Yushchenko party, and he invited several reform-minded individuals from Yushchenko’s team, including Lutsenko and Yatsenyuk, to help him in that. The newspaper Segodnya, which is close to the NSNU’s main rivals, the Party of Regions, has speculated that Katerynchuk would try and split the Our Ukraine parliamentary faction. He may set up his own faction numbering 12-15 defectors from Our Ukraine, Segodnya said on November 14.
It is not clear which political niche the NSNU will fill if it parts its ways with Yushchenko. The NSNU congress voted in favor of going into opposition to the cabinet dominated by the Party of Regions. But the highly popular Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc has filled the main opposition niche, and the NSNU in its current form cannot compete with it. A coalition with Tymoshenko is also unlikely, as she and the “dear friends” have long been antagonists.
Yushchenko, in addition to losing control over his party, is rapidly losing the last levers of influence that he had over the cabinet. Seven people represented Yushchenko’s team in the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych when it was formed in August. On November 1, parliament accepted the resignations of Justice Minister Roman Zvarych and Culture Minister Ihor Likhovy. Of the five Yushchenko ministers remaining, the replacement of two is only a question of time, as Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko and Family and Youth Minister Yuriy Pavlenko submitted their resignations in October, simultaneously with Zvarych and Likhovy.
Interior Minister Lutsenko is in a precarious position. In a recent interview with the UT1 state television channel, Yanukovych said that Lutsenko must choose between his current job and pursuing a political career. It should not be difficult for Yanukovych to get rid of Lutsenko, as a vote by a parliament dominated by the Yanukovych-led coalition should suffice for that.
The two ministers whom Yushchenko will hold on to until the very end are Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko. These are the only ministers appointed to the cabinet on the presidential quota, rather than on the quotas of parliamentary factions, so Yanukovych has no legal tools to get rid of them. Parliament can vote no confidence in them, which it reportedly is going to do during the next several days. But that would not oblige Yushchenko to dismiss them. Speaking on November 13, Yushchenko said that Tarasyuk’s dismissal would be tantamount to a rejection of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic course.
(Channel 5, October 21, November 11, 13; Versii.com, November 13; Segodnya, UT1, November 13, 14)