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Ukraine: Will Presidential Party Split Over Ruling Coalition?

President Yushchenko could see his bloc in parliament dissolve beneath him (epa) PRAGUE, September 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Reforms and Order Party surprised fellow Our Ukraine constituents when it recently announced it was switching alliances and entering the opposition in order to avoid a partnership with a government it accused of posing a threat to democracy.

What is taking place in Our Ukraine can be described as the final stage in the disintegration of the Orange Revolution camp that helped bring Viktor Yushchenko to the presidential post in December 2004.

Breakup Of The Orange Revolution

The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was the first to leave the pro-presidential alliance, in September 2005, after Yushchenko removed Tymoshenko from the post of prime minister.
"It is quite apparent that there are diametrically opposing views
regarding this issue in Our Ukraine, as well as opposite trends
regarding the development of Our Ukraine itself."

When the Party of Regions, led by Yushchenko's erstwhile presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovych, won the parliamentary elections in March, an opportunity arose for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to reunite in an effort to prevent Yanukovych from returning to power.

But as old political wisdom asserts, being in opposition unites, while being in power divides. Lingering animosities and personal ambitions prevented the leaders of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party from resurrecting their 2005 ruling alliance.

Thus, the second force to quit the Orange Revolution camp was the Socialist Party led by Oleksandr Moroz. The Socialists unexpectedly switched sides in July, signing an "anticrisis" accord with the Party of Regions and the Communists.

Lack Of Unity

Yushchenko then tried to salvage the situation by having Our Ukraine sign a declaration of national unity with the anticrisis coalition. That deal allowed Our Ukraine to obtain several ministerial portfolios in Yanukovych's cabinet and represented a symbolic agreement between the signatories to pursue the basic goals and ideals of the Orange Revolution.

Running the government jointly with the Communist Party, however, has turned out to be an unpalatable idea for many Our Ukraine politicians. Only 30 of Our Ukraine's 80 lawmakers voted in August to confirm Yanukovych as prime minister, despite the fact that the bloc delegated four ministers to his cabinet, in addition to three ministers appointed by Yushchenko.

Mykola Katerynchuk, the chairman of the executive board of the Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU) -- which constitutes the core of the Our Ukraine parliamentary bloc -- suggested that those NSNU members who backed Yanukovych in the vote should leave the union.

Roman Bezsmertny (epa, file photo)

But this proposal was criticized by NSNU leader Roman Bezsmertnyy, who is in favor of Our Ukraine joining the anticrisis coalition on the basis of a new coalition accord.

Outright Opposition

How to do this, however, is a major headache for Yushchenko's loyalists.

Lawmaker Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov from the People's Rukh of Ukraine, another important component of Our Ukraine, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that his party took a "very stiff position" on a potential expanded coalition.

"We see the possibility of forming a new coalition, but only if it was done simultaneously with a full reformatting of the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada and the government. To which, I think, these guys [from the anticrisis coalition] will never agree," Pozhyvanov said. "And [we want a coalition] without the Communists. It is a very stiff position. It has not gained much favor with Borys Ivanovych [Bezsmertnyy], but it was approved by voting."

The Reforms and Order Party from the Our Ukraine bloc has overtly switched to the opposition, charging that Yanukovych's government poses "a direct threat to democracy, the national-cultural self-identification and development of the nation, and fundamental principles of the Ukrainian statehood."

Deal Possible?

However, others from Our Ukraine, like former National Security and Defense Secretary Petro Poroshenko, have not lost hope of making a deal with the anticrisis coalition.

Petro Poroshenko (epa, file photo)

"Everything depends on the efficiency of the negotiating process," Poroshenko said. "I can't say that the negotiations are running very smoothly. There were different views regarding both the name and principles of the coalition -- it has to be a new coalition. It is very much a matter of principle [for us] to include the programmatic provisions of the declaration of national unity into the coalition agreement."

Some Ukrainian political commentators and analysts, like Kostyantyn Maleyev of the Kyiv-based Philosophical Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, believe that Our Ukraine will not be able to reach a unifying conclusion on what position to take on working with Yanukovych's cabinet.

"It is quite apparent that there are diametrically opposing views regarding this issue in Our Ukraine, as well as opposite trends regarding the development of Our Ukraine itself," Maleyev said. "It seems that these contradictions cannot be overcome in the future."

Marriage Of Convenience

In theory, Yanukovych does not need Our Ukraine's support in parliament -- his Party of Regions, the Socialists, and the Communists jointly control 240 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, which is sufficient to pass most legislation.

In practice, however, backing from Our Ukraine may be needed to introduce some economic measures where the views of the Marxism-rooted Communists and Socialists differ from those of the pro-market Party of Regions.

In addition, Yanukovych may need Our Ukraine in the ruling coalition as a sort of legitimization of his government in the eyes of the West.

But irrespective of the final outcome of this coalition-building story, it is already evident that the pro-presidential Our Ukraine, which several months ago stood a realistic chance of dictating its own conditions for the government, will now have to reconcile itself to the status of a secondary political force.

Our Ukraine's political weight may be diminished even further by lawmakers who choose to switch to the opposition and side with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. According to cautious estimates, there may be around 20 such defectors.

(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service correspondent Tetyana Yarmoshchuk contributed to this report.)

The Key Players

The Key Players

BEHIND THE IMAGES: Click on the links below to read RFE/RL's profiles of some of the key players in Ukraine's March 26 legislative elections:

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.