The constitution gives Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko 15 days to endorse the parliamentary majority’s choice for prime minister, and Yushchenko has used this entire interim trying to persuade his rival, Viktor Yanukovych, to accept his conditions in return for the endorsement. Today, August 2, is the deadline for Yushchenko to endorse the nomination of Yanukovych — the Party of Regions (PRU) leader — offered by the left-center majority. The other option is to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
Yushchenko’s party, Our Ukraine, has been officially in talks with the PRU since July 27, discussing the possibility of reformatting the majority. Our Ukraine has been pushing for dropping the Communists from the coalition and assigning several key cabinet posts to its people (see EDM, July 27). Simultaneously, Yushchenko launched unprecedented talks in the format of president-parliamentary speaker-leaders of five major parties, suggesting that the main political players should sign a declaration of national unity that might serve as the basis for a new coalition.
The declaration draft offered by Yushchenko during a televised discussion with his ally Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, Communist leader Petro Symonenko, and Socialist parliamentary faction leader Vasyl Tsushko on July 27 was essentially a summary of Our Ukraine’s ideology. Yushchenko made it clear that he was not ready for ideological compromises. By this, he demonstrated that he did not want the Communists, with their anti-Western and anti-market rhetoric, in the government. At the same time, he tested the PRU’s readiness for compromise over ideology in exchange for control of the cabinet.
The draft national unity declaration urges those who sign it to preserve Ukraine’s unity, continue reforms (including constitutional reform), guarantee property rights, fight corruption, preserve the status of Ukrainian as the only official language, work to unite Ukraine’s orthodox churches, and support accession to the WTO, the EU, and NATO.
Symonenko rejected the draft outright. The PRU announced that it was unhappy with Yushchenko’s conditions on July 28. One of PRU’s leaders, Yevhen Kushnaryov, said that the version of the draft offered by Yushchenko significantly differed from a paper originally prepared by Our Ukraine and the PRU’s experts. He revealed that the original draft differed from Yushchenko’s in the clauses on NATO, official language, and relations with Russia. According to Kushnaryov, no NATO membership action plan, which Yushchenko’s draft urges supporting, was mentioned in the first draft. He also complained that Yushchenko’s version did not mention Russia, which the PRU views as a key ally. Kushnaryov called Yushchenko’s draft “tough” and warned that the PRU would not “accept talks based on blackmail and threats.”
Yushchenko said the declaration would be signed by July 29 at the latest. But this did not happen. On that day, Yushchenko’s aide Ivan Vasyunyk announced that several points “required additional discussion.” He listed the language issue (the PRU, the Communists, and the Socialists believe that Russian should be granted some status, possibly on a par with Ukrainian), Euro-Atlantic integration, and the attitude toward the Russia-dominated Single Economic Space as the main stumbling blocks. Yushchenko, speaking on July 31, added to this list the federalization issue — the PRU wants to give more powers to the regions, while Yushchenko wants to preserve a unitary state.
No progress was reported over the weekend. The liberal weekly Zerkalo nedeli suggested that Our Ukraine should drop the idea of a national unity declaration and the coalition talks and go into the opposition. Most daily newspapers on July 31 and August 1 called the discussion of Yushchenko’s draft a “failure” and a “fiasco.” Kushnaryov told journalists on August 1 that several stumbling blocks remained. This time, in addition to the earlier named points on language, NATO, and Russia, Kushnaryov mentioned religion. The Moscow church backed Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential election, but Yushchenko favors the independence of the Ukrainian church from Russia.
On August 1, Yushchenko’s spokeswoman, Iryna Herashchenko, announced that he had started consultations with the major parties on the possible dissolution of parliament. This step would be hailed by the parties that failed to clear the barrier to enter parliament in the elections in March, as well as by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, which said it would be ready to join forces with Our Ukraine for an election. Tymoshenko would dominate in such a bloc, as recent public opinion polls showed that her popularity exceeds Yushchenko’s and Our Ukraine’s two- to three-fold.
The PRU is even more popular, but it is against the dissolution of parliament, as it is not clear whether its representative would have a chance of becoming prime minister after a new election. The PRU’s Kushnaryov on August 1 went as far as threatening that the parliamentary majority would appoint Yanukovych prime minister even without Yushchenko. Our Ukraine and Tymoshenko believe that this would amount to a coup.
(Ukrayinska pravda, July 27, 28, 31; 1+1 TV, Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, July 29; Zerkalo nedeli, July 30; Channel 5, August 1)