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Ukraine: Latest Deadline Nears In Political Impasse

Tymoshenko supporters demonstrate in front of the parliament building in Kyiv on July 21 (epa) PRAGUE, July 24, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- On July 25, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko faces a critical decision -- whether to dissolve the country's parliament. The deadline comes almost four months to the day after the Verkhovna Rada was first elected.

In the interim, the legislature has been hamstrung by political infighting and power plays that have left the country without a government -- and without an "Orange coalition" that would lead Ukraine toward deeper integration with the West.

Unpleasant Choices

Yushchenko has several options at his disposal, and none are particularly pleasant.

As president, Yushchenko has the constitutional prerogative to dismiss parliament on July 25 -- 60 days after the resignation of the previous cabinet.

Such a move would break the political deadlock that has paralyzed parliament since elections were held March 26.

But it's an unappealing option for Yushchenko. Polls indicate his Our Ukraine bloc would see its numbers drop even lower than the 13 percent of the vote it took in its third-place finish in March.

Speaking on July 22 in his weekly radio address, Yushchenko appeared to indicate he would not opt to throw out the parliament.

He was ready, he said, to cooperate with the Verkhovna Rada "for the sake of the country's stability and development."

"The new government will be given an important and difficult task," Yushchenko said. "It has to keep up the pace of economic development and advance the living standards of our citizens. This can only be achieved by hard work, and only a team of professionals will be able to handle this task. This team should be headed by a person who can give up narrow partisan interests and take responsibility for the country's economic development. I hope for the wisdom of Ukrainian politicians."

Yushchenko may also be hoping for a situation that leaves at least some of his political clout intact.

Embracing Yanukovych

He faces unpalatable options even if he chooses to leave the current parliament in place.

One would be for him to go into the opposition against the so-called anti-crisis coalition led by the pro-Russia Party of Regions of his political archrival, Viktor Yanukovych.

This would leave Yushchenko largely marginalized by a parliament with newly enhanced constitutional powers.

Lastly, Yushchenko could agree to a grand coalition that would ally Our Ukraine with the Party of Regions.

It's a political partnership that was unthinkable two years ago, when the Orange Revolution carried Yushchenko to victory over a disgraced and discredited Yanukovych.

Such a decision would ensure a place for Our Ukraine in the new cabinet. But it would be the final blow for many Orange Revolution supporters who have seen their dreams of Western integration sink alongside Yushchenko's popularity.

Tymoshenko's Gambit

One major player in Ukraine's parliamentary drama is pushing for Yushchenko to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada. Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's former Orange Revolution ally and prime minister, who had been determined to serve again as prime minister of an Orange coalition linking her eponymous bloc with Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party of Ukraine.

That aspiration died in early July, when the Socialists defected to the Yanukovych-led coalition.

But Tymoshenko remains a charismatic figure and the self-described keeper of the Orange Revolution flame.

For her, fresh elections would be an opportunity to win the votes of Ukrainians disenchanted by Yushchenko's seemingly lackluster commitment to pro-Western principles.

Yushchenko (left) shakes hands with Yanukovych prior to talks on July 21 (TASS)

Tymoshenko today tried to press the issue, declaring that deputies from her political bloc will give up their seats in an effort to force the dissolution of parliament.

"Being aware of the danger of a restoration in Ukraine of a communist-oligarchic government, and with the aim of providing the president with additional constitutional provisions to call for extraordinary parliamentary elections in Ukraine, we state that we are ready to end our terms as members of the Ukrainian parliament," Tymoshenko said.

Our Ukraine deputies are unlikely to take Tymoshenko up on her invitation to do the same. Borys Bespaly, a member of Yushchenko's faction, described Tymoshenko's initiative as little more than public relations.

Moscow Watching

If Yushchenko decides not to dissolve parliament, his next deadline comes August 2, when he must endorse a candidate for prime minister submitted by Yanukovych's coalition and return it to parliament for final approval.

Constitutional changes implemented this year took the power to nominate a prime-ministerial candidate away from the president.

The anti-crisis coalition submitted Yanukovych's candidacy to Yushchenko on July 18. The constitution gives the president 15 days to consider the nomination.

A Yanukovych premiership will be pleasing for Moscow, which resented Ukraine's pro-Western orientation following the Orange Revolution.

Having a Moscow-friendly premier may mean a less punishing price rise when Ukraine renegotiates its gas contract with Russia in the autumn.

But the four-month impasse and the failure of the Orange coalition have likely dealt a setback to those in Ukraine who favor NATO and EU membership.

Referendum On The Revolution

Referendum On The Revolution

Yushchenko supporters attend a rally in Kyiv on December 26-27, 2005

RETHINKING THE ORANGE: The March 26 elections are the first major national referendum on President Viktor Yushchenko and the ideals of the Orange Revolution that brought him to power in early 2005. Opinion polls in Ukraine indicate widespread dissatisfaction with developments in the country since Yushchenko took power. The results of the elections are expected to clarify whether Yushchenko will be able to step up the implementation of his reformist policies declared during the 2004 Orange Revolution or whether he will get mired even deeper in political wrangling with his opponents...(more)

See also:

Why Are Ukrainians Disappointed With The Orange Revolution?

Has Yushchenko Betrayed The Orange Revolution?

Pollster Maps Out Post-Revolutionary Moods

REVOLUTION IN THE AIR: Listen to an audio portrait of the Orange Revolution from RFE/RL's archives.
Real Audio Windows Media

Click on the image for background and archived articles about Ukraine's March 26 elections.

Click on the image to see RFE/RL's coverage of the Ukrainian elections in Ukrainian.

Click on the image to view a photo gallery of some of the key players in the Ukrainian elections.