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Ukraine: 'Orange' Coalition Deal Initialed, But Have Lessons Of Past Been Learned?

  • Claire Bigg --> President Viktor Yushchenko and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko are joining forces again (AFP) October 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Pro-Western parties that together won a narrow majority in last month's Ukrainian parliamentary elections have struck a tentative deal on forming the next government.

It was Yulia Tymoshenko who officially unveiled the coalition agreement late on October 15, bringing together her eponymous bloc with the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc of President Viktor Yushchenko.

The deal followed on the heels of the announcement of official results from the September 30 parliamentary election to the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. The vote gave the Tymoshenko and Yushchenko blocs a slim majority (228 seats, with 30.71 percent and 14.15 percent respectively) over their rivals, the Party of Regions led Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and the Communist Party (202 seats, with 34.37 percent and 5.39 percent respectively).

Speaking to a news conference, an elated Tymoshenko promised a raft of reforms. "The parliament is new, those in power are new, and the democratic team has all the grounds to reform all sectors of life so that people feel tangible changes in the country," she said.

Orange Revolution Redux

Her comments may sound familiar to many Ukrainians. The situation has distinct echoes of 2004, when the Orange Revolution catapulted Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to power. Once again, Ukrainians have cast their ballots, and once again the Orange allies are joining forces to lead the country into what they pledge will be a prosperous, democratic future.

The coalition's majority is so thin that even the bouts of flu that regularly disable Ukrainian lawmakers could disrupt the balance of power in the legislature.

Much has changed, however, since 2004. The Orange movement is still licking its wounds after the duo's bitter falling-out, which culminated in September 2005 with the president dismissing Tymoshenko as prime minister after just nine months in office.

Her removal opened the door for the return of Yanukovych, Yushchenko's defeated rival, in the rerun of a fraudulent 2004 presidential vote that had given him victory. With the her bloc's striking success in the elections, Tymoshenko looks set to regain the premiership.

But is the Orange coalition prepared to avoid its past mistakes this time around? Tymoshenko, for one, appeared ready to acknowledge that some may have doubts about the longevity of another partnership with Yushchenko. "We have drawn conclusions from what happened in previous years," she said, in remarks reported by AP and confirmed by her office. "We firmly know what to do, we firmly know how, and with which team."

An Uncertain Coalition

Others, however, have doubts. Ukrainian political analyst Ivan Lozovy predicts their second coalition will be as short-lived as their first. "Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's interests are very divergent, and these divergent interests center on the upcoming presidential elections," Lozovy says. "Within a year's time, serious election campaigning will begin. The only scenario in which Yushchenko has a chance of winning the presidential election is if he enters the second round against Yanukovych again. He won't enter the second round if Yulia Tymoshenko runs, that's clear. And this is the main reason why any coalition just between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko is not a viable one on the long term."

This view is shared by Jan Maksymiuk, an RFE/RL expert on Ukraine. He says the proposed coalition's majority is too slender to support their aims, without the addition of the one wild card -- the bloc of former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, which took 3.96 percent of the vote and will hold 20 parliamentary seats. "As it looks now, it is not very viable, because they have only two votes more than they need for a majority. So it's a very precarious situation," Maksymiuk says. "They would need some third force to join this coalition in order to ensure the legislation they need is passed. The only option is the Lytvyn bloc, but talks so far have been fruitless." Maksymiuk says the coalition could even collapse within weeks if it fails to secure the parliament's approval of Tymoshenko as prime minister.

The first sitting of the new parliament -- during which the coalition agreement is due to be signed -- remains unscheduled. The coalition's majority is so thin that even the apparent bouts of flu that regularly disable Ukrainian lawmakers could disrupt the balance of power in the legislature and block proposals pushed by the coalition.

There is also the threat that Our Ukraine may be divided over Yushchenko's decision to form a coalition with Tymoshenko's bloc. A number of lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, oppose a Tymoshenko premiership, and favor an alliance with Yanukovych's Party of Regions as one way of avoiding it.

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to​