Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 68

On Monday, April 2, President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree disbanding parliament and plunging Ukraine into a political crisis (see EDM, April 4). Elections are set for May 27 — before the Constitutional Court will rule on the legality of the decree.

Yushchenko is a highly cautious and moderate politician who had previously ruled out disbanding parliament. Until mid-March only the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc supported a call for early elections, which were officially not due until March 2011. In the two weeks prior to the decree, Yushchenko, the presidential secretariat, Our Ukraine, and former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who heads the Self-Defense NGO, shifted to the Tymoshenko Bloc’s position.

There are at least five reasons for the shift:

First, a sense of deja vu surrounding Anatoliy Kinakh’s appointment as minister of economics (EDM, March 27), which has echoes of events in 2002, when the pro-presidential majority bribed Liberals and Trade Unionists to defect from Our Ukraine. This gave Yushchenko his strongest legal argument that the ongoing “buying” of deputies was altering the outcome of the 2006 elections. Since April 2004 it has been illegal for deputies to change factions.

Second, last month police raided Lutsenko’s apartment and arrested members of Self-Defense. Again this felt familiar, as weapons and explosives were reportedly planted to incriminate them as alleged “terrorists.” In October 2004 the police planted explosives in the offices of Pora, a youth-oriented NGO, and accused them of being “terrorists” (EDM, September 30, 2004).

Third, the cancellation of the popular “Toloka” television program on State Channel 1 brought back memories of media censorship.

Fourth, the March 28 contract killing of Maksym Kurochkin, head of the pro-Yanukovych “Russian Club” during the 2004 elections. His high-profile political and business ties to the regime of former president Leonid Kuchma complimented Kurochkin’s links to organized crime.

Finally, there is also a personal factor. Yushchenko’s decision to disband parliament came after repeated provocations against him from the Anti-Crisis coalition and government.

On numerous occasions the coalition and government has repeatedly and unnecessarily embarrassed the president. These included the unconstitutional dismissal of Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, refusal to accept the president’s choice for his replacement, the law on the cabinet of ministers, the refusal to join the president’s constitutional commission to improve the hastily adopted reforms, attempts at removing governors, and not implementing the August 2006 “Universal Agreement.”

Threats to change the constitution to make Russian a second state language and the refusal to vote in favor of the law on the 1933 artificial famine damaged relations with Yushchenko further. These are emotional and non-negotiable issues for national democrats.

The current political crisis is, in part, a product of the unfinished nature of the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych and his allies were never punished for election fraud in 2004, even though the Supreme Court ruled on December 3, 2004, that those involved in mass fraud should be criminally charged.

The unwillingness on the part of the Yanukovych camp to accept guilt for election fraud, coupled with Yushchenko’s lack of political will to prosecute, has led to the current impasse. The coalition and government have returned many odious officials from the Kuchma regime, ignoring how this would be perceived in the Orange camp.

Professor Olexiy Haran of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy told EDM, “All the events after the signing of the Universal [Agreement] showed that the Party of Regions [was] not ready to find a compromise and wanted to monopolize power in the country and to return Ukraine to the Kuchma era.”

In a significant return to past practices, on April 3 parliament voted to reinstate the 2004 Central Election Commission (CEC), which was involved in election fraud. Former CEC chairman Serhiy Kivalov is a Party of Regions deputy who refuses to accept any implication in election fraud.

The 2004 CEC had been reformed as part of the December 8, 2004, compromise that resulted in a repeat of the second round of the elections and constitutional reforms that reassigned many presidential powers to parliament.

The Security Service threatened to prosecute anybody attempting to change the CEC put in place after December 8, 2004. The parliamentary decision also radicalized the CEC, moving it from a middle-of-the-road position to agreeing to organize early elections in May.

The decision to reinstate the discredited CEC opens up a Pandora’s box that could unravel the December 2004 compromise. Constitutional reforms could also be deemed illegitimate.

U.S. Judge Bohdan Futey, an expert on Ukrainian law, told EDM, “The reforms are illegitimate and unconstitutional. The Rada and the Cabinet are abusing the reforms, as their aim is to curtail the powers of the presidency and to change the constitution.” According to Futey, deputies’ changing affiliations is unconstitutional, but Yushchenko’s decree is not.

An alternative solution to the crisis, supported by Western governments and the EU, is to seek a compromise. Yanukovych has proposed a “zero option” whereby the coalition would step back by canceling the law on the cabinet of ministers, prohibiting deputies from changing factions, and not attempting to create a constitutional majority. In return, the president would cancel his decree.

Reaching a compromise is difficult, however, due to the Yushchenko team’s lack of trust in Yanukovych, following repeated examples of bad faith. Yushchenko is also reluctant to cancel his decree, as this would transform him into a lame-duck president.

If Ukraine holds elections next month, the results will be similar to those a year ago, except the Socialists will not enter parliament. The choice will again be an Orange or Grand coalition. The Anti-Crisis coalition is dead and buried.

(Ukrayinska pravda, April 2-4; president.gov.ua, New York Times, April 4; The Observer, April 1)