As the clock ticks down to June 24, when President Viktor Yushchenko may disband the Ukrainian parliament if no group has been able to form a majority there, coalition talks have intensified dramatically. Now Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine is in talks not only with the parties that helped it bring Yushchenko to power in 2004 — the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialists — but also with the Party of Regions (PRU) of Viktor Yanukovych, who was Yushchenko’s bitter rival in the 2004 presidential campaign. Apparently each of Our Ukraine’s would-be coalition partners is ready for compromises over posts, yet differences remain over issues as important as Euro-Atlantic integration, property rights, federalism, and the state language.
On June 13, Our Ukraine suspended talks with Tymoshenko and the Socialists and signaled its readiness for a coalition with the PRU. Yushchenko blamed the Socialists’ ambitions for forcing Our Ukraine’s hand (see EDM, June 14). Faced with the prospect of being pushed into the opposition, the Socialists and Tymoshenko backed down. Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz told parliament on June 14 that he was ready to give up his claims for the post of parliamentary speaker. He, however, came up with another, albeit a milder, condition — that “all posts [should] be divided proportionally, from the deputy heads of district administrations up to ministers.”
Yushchenko scolded Moroz for “blackmail and pressure” at their meeting on June 15. He also rejected the suggestions that apparently came from Moroz and Tymoshenko that the posts that are, according to the constitution, up to the president to fill, such as defense minister and foreign affairs minister, should be shared according to party quotas along with other posts. At the same time, Yushchenko said that he still preferred a coalition with Moroz and Tymoshenko to an alliance with the PRU. He also offered Moroz the post of secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.
The three Orange Revolution parties resumed talks on June 16. It seems, however, that their readiness for compromises over posts has not prompted ideological compromises. Ideological gaps are especially wide between Our Ukraine, which is pushing for NATO membership, free markets, and reversing the constitutional amendments that bring Ukraine closer to a parliamentary republic, and the Socialists, who are wary of NATO, oppose land privatization, and want a stronger parliament.
The differences among the Orange Revolution partners, which seem insurmountable to many observers, have prompted Our Ukraine leaders to intensify their dialogue with the Party of Regions. Our Ukraine has confessed that it has been holding “consultations” with the once-bitter rivals, but it is still shy to admit that the possibility of an “orange-blue” coalition is quite high. The PRU has been less coy. Yanukovych forecast on June 15 that a coalition with Our Ukraine would be signed as early as Tuesday, June 20.
Representatives of both Our Ukraine and the PRU say that they have not yet discussed the distribution of posts. Ideological differences seem to be the main stumbling block in this case as well. Our Ukraine has demanded that the PRU drop its opposition to NATO membership, along with the idea of federalism and plans to raise the status of the Russian language. Those are the pillars on which the PRU built its victorious parliamentary election campaign earlier this year, so it should not be easy for the party to drop them.
The PRU, however, is intrinsically better prepared for compromises than Tymoshenko or the Socialists. It is a party of big business, which does not want to be in the opposition. Ideology is not as important for the PRU as it is for Tymoshenko and especially for the Socialist Party, which risks losing its rural electorate if it agrees to land privatization and its supporters among the elderly if it backs Yushchenko on NATO.
As an option, the PRU has been offering a broad coalition. On June 14, it issued a statement urging such a coalition and signaling readiness for compromise over Euro-Atlantic integration. Many influential people in Our Ukraine, including Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, are in favor of a broad coalition involving the PRU, Tymoshenko, and possibly the Socialists. If established, such an alliance would include more than 400 deputies in the 450-seat parliament, which does not seem realistic.
Tymoshenko and the Socialists apparently view the idea of a broad coalition as a ploy to kill the Orange Revolution coalition. Tymoshenko told television reporters on June 15 that, should a broad coalition be set up, she would immediately go into the opposition and start preparations for a new presidential campaign. The Socialists, being the smallest among would-be coalition parties, are especially afraid of a broad alliance, where their political weight would be reduced to a minimum. Yosyp Vinsky — the most influential Socialist after Moroz — said on June 15 that his party would be in the opposition, should Our Ukraine and the PRU form an alliance. He, however, admitted that many Socialists do not share his point of view, and that they may quit the party to join the alliance.
(Channel 5 TV, June 14-17; Ukrayinska pravda, Inter TV, UNIAN, 1+1 TV, June 15; Den, June 16)