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Ukraine: Has Yushchenko Betrayed The Orange Revolution?

On 27 and 28 September Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko appointed some 20 ministers to the new cabinet of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov. The appointments apparently marked Yushchenko's recovery of control over a government that found itself in a serious political crisis, triggered by public allegations of corruption in the presidential entourage and the sacking of the previous cabinet of Yuliya Tymoshenko. However, many in Ukraine and abroad wonder if Yushchenko has not paid an excessive price for getting the new cabinet down to work so quickly.

Yushchenko suffered an unpleasant setback in the Verkhovna Rada on 20 September, when Yekhanurov fell three votes short of being approved as prime minister. Therefore, to secure himself against such nasty surprises in the future, Yushchenko made a political deal with his main rival in the 2004 presidential election, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. After that, Yanukovych's Party of Regions parliamentary caucus, consisting of 50 deputies, threw its support to Yekhanurov and the latter's nomination was easily endorsed on 22 September with 289 votes (226 were required for approval).

Yushchenko and Yanukovych outlined their political pact in the 10-point "Memorandum Of Understanding Between The Authorities And The Opposition," which was signed by both politicians and by Yekhanurov shortly before the 22 September vote. Some Ukrainian media have speculated that the memorandum was accompanied by a "secret protocol," in which Yushchenko allegedly made even more concessions to Yanukovych in exchange for the latter's support for the new cabinet. But even without any supplement, the memorandum is such a bewildering document that it has prompted many in Ukraine to assert that Yushchenko has betrayed the ideals of the November-December 2004 Orange Revolution and backed down on many of his election promises.

Outlining The Deal

To start with, the memorandum stresses the need to implement the political reform that was a cornerstone of the compromise reached by Yushchenko and the Verkhovna Rada in the 2004 election standoff and that paved the way for his victory. According to a package of laws passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 8 December 2004, the political-reform law redistributing powers among the president, the parliament, and the prime minister is to take effect automatically on 1 January 2006. There was no apparent reason to include such a point in the memorandum, perhaps apart from Yanukovych's personal desire implicitly to affront Yushchenko by suggesting that the latter might have played with the idea of canceling the reform in order not to lose his current presidential prerogatives.

Point two of the memorandum emphasizes "the impermissibility of political repressions against the opposition." However one looks at this statement, it is obviously embarrassing and disadvantageous for Yushchenko. Because the phrase either implies that Yushchenko might resort to such repressions or provides the opposition with a strong point of reference if the authorities undertake any legal action against opposition figures who might violate the law.

However, the most stunning statement in the memorandum is the third point, whereby Yushchenko obliges himself to draft a bill on amnesty for those guilty of election fraud. It was the massive election fraud in the 2004 presidential election's second round that pushed hundreds of thousand of Ukrainians into the streets and made Yushchenko's victory in the repeat second round possible. (See also RFE/RL's special webpage "Ukraine's Disputed Election.")
"For the people, the ideals of [the Orange Revolution] mean that the law should be the same for everyone, that evil should always be punished, and that those involved in corruption should be removed from politics." -- former Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko

Now Yushchenko seems to have forgotten or ignored that fact and is offering general pardon for the fraudsters, taking upon himself the role of top judge. Additionally, in the fourth point Yushchenko agrees to legislation to extend immunity from criminal prosecution to local council members, which seems to be another guarantee of the unaccountability to many individuals involved in the 2004 election fraud. What has become of Yushchenko's solemn promise during the Orange Revolution to send "all bandits to jail"?

Compromise Or Betrayal?

The signatories of the memorandum also agree that it is necessary to urgently adopt laws on the opposition, the cabinet of ministers, and the president; form a cabinet on the principle of separation of government from business; provide legislative guarantees of ownership rights; ban pressure on judicial bodies; and conduct the parliamentary and local elections on 26 March 2006 without governmental interference or the use of "administrative resources." Each of these pledges, if interpreted in a manner unfavorable to Yushchenko, represents a significant step back from Yushchenko's election manifesto or, at a minimum, testifies to Yushchenko's public humiliation by his former presidential rival, whose political career seemed to have been tarnished forever by his behavior in the 2004 presidential.

"Signing the memorandum, the president may have earnestly wished to put an end to the crisis. But the price he paid was too high: The deal gave rise to a more serious crisis, a crisis of trust," the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" opined. And Yushchenko's staunch ally in the Orange Revolution, former Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko, described the Yushchenko-Yanukovych pact in even more bitter words: "For the people, the ideals of the Maydan [Kyiv's Independence Square, seen as the Orange Revolution's main rostrum] mean that the law should be the same for everyone, that evil should always be punished, and that those involved in corruption should be removed from politics," Tomenko wrote in an article for the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 28 September. "For the new authorities, however, it is acceptable to collaborate with Yanukovych, who personifies all the worst features of the previous regime and who became the catalyst of the Orange Revolution."

And The Winner Is Tymoshenko?

Arguably, the Yushchenko-Yanukovych deal provides a lot of propagandistic ammunition for former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who intends to launch her 2006 parliamentary election campaign under the slogan of continuing the Orange Revolution until a victorious conclusion and with the intent of regaining the job of prime minister after the elections. Now Tymoshenko can persuasively claim that she, not Yushchenko, has remained true to the Orange Revolution ideals.

A recent poll by the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Fund found that Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc is supported by 20.7 percent of Ukrainians, about the same as Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine People's Union is third, with the support of 13.9 percent. It seems that Yushchenko's political troubles, temporarily pacified by the deal with his former rival, will return to him amplified by the 2006 parliamentary elections.

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