The pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc (NU) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) have signed an accord proclaiming a unified opposition. It is aimed against the majority coalition in parliament, which was formed last summer by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, the Socialists, and the Communists. The two opposition blocs pledged to form a majority coalition in parliament and a Cabinet if they win the elections. NU and BYT, in an alliance with the Socialists, did win the March 2006 elections. That alliance, however, fell apart within four months. Tymoshenko, speaking after signing the unity accord on February 24, laid blame for that on the Socialists, who opted for a coalition with Yanukovych last year. There are, however, doubts about the viability of the new alliance and about the attainability of its goals.
A preliminary agreement on a unified opposition was signed on February 6. Not everybody in NU welcomed it, expressing mistrust in Tymoshenko and reservations about her ideology (see EDM, February 13). Nevertheless, NU and BYT demonstrated a unity of actions through February. Yanukovych’s careless remark about the absence of grounds to raise minimum wages and pensions, which he made on a visit to Donetsk on February 15, prompted NU and BYT to attack the government, employing populist rhetoric.
President Viktor Yushchenko, who is the honorary chairman of NU, called on Yanukovych to immediately come up with legal amendments to boost social protection. Tymoshenko predicted that Yanukovych’s attitude toward social protection would result in his dismissal. She launched a tour of Ukraine, urging the local authorities to lower utility rates.
On February 19, NU and BYT signed a declaration pledging unity of actions at the local councils. As the majority refused to discuss a BYT-drafted bill aimed at restricting rises in utility prices, NU and BYT deputies on February 21-23 blacked out parliament by switching off the lights and blocking the access to the electrical control room. This maneuver did not make much practical sense, as the majority continued to pass laws during the daytime, using natural light from the windows, but the show of unity of NU and BYT was demonstrated on TV screens across the country for several days, which was probably their real motive.
Finally on February 24, Tymoshenko and presidential administration chief Viktor Baloha, who is the formal head of NU, signed the accord on a unified opposition. In the preamble, the two parties warn against “an anti-constitutional coup, whose goal is to return power to the clans and oligarchs” and against “the absolutely unconstitutional concentration of power in the hands of the Cabinet and the parliamentary majority.” The accord offers two remedies: a cancellation of the constitutional reform of 2004-2006, which weakened the presidency, and an early parliamentary election.
Yushchenko, who has significantly fewer constitutional powers than his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, and Tymoshenko, who harbors presidential ambitions, rejected the constitutional reform from the outset. However, it will be very hard to cancel it, as the necessary constitutional amendments cannot be made if the parliamentary majority and the Constitutional Court do not agree. In the text of the accord, NU and BYT pledged that their first step as a unified opposition would be to appeal the constitutional reform to the Court.
An early election would provide NU and BYT with another chance to form a government, as recent public opinion polls show that they might muster more popular support than Yanukovych and his allies if the elections took place now. There are, however, no legal grounds for early elections at the moment. Baloha has said that there is a possibility that the Court may proclaim the current Cabinet illegal. In that case, Yushchenko would have formal grounds to call new elections.
Yushchenko, speaking on February 22, was skeptical, saying that an early parliamentary election would not change the situation in Ukraine. Former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, whose new People’s Self-Defense movement proclaims support for both NU and BYT, has doubted that it is legally possible to disband the parliament and call new elections. Yanukovych, interviewed on television on February 25, said that his party is against early elections that would “destabilize the country.” One of his party’s senior members, a former first assistant to president Kuchma, Serhy Lyovochkin, took the accord between NU and BYT less seriously, dismissing it as “just another part of the same soap opera.”
The accord signed on February 24 does not say anything about a joint election campaign. Speaking on television on February 25, Tymoshenko clarified that BYT and NU would conduct separate campaigns in case of an early election. Baloha confirmed this, speaking to NU’s web site Razom.org.ua. Running separately, it would be hard for BYT and NU to avoid competition and conflicts at the local level, as they share the same nationally minded, mostly Ukrainian-speaking electorate in the west and center of Ukraine and Kyiv.
(Korrespondent.net, February 16; UNIAN, February 19, 22, 25; Channel 5, February 21; Razom.org.ua, February 24, 26; Ukrayinska pravda, February 24; ICTV, ProUA.com, February 25)