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Ukraine: Retribution Behind Calls For Early Elections

(RFE/RL) March 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Last week, a lawmaker from the ruling Party of Regions submitted to parliament a draft bill on holding simultaneous early parliamentary and presidential elections this coming fall.

A week earlier two opposition parties, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine, signed a unity deal in which they pledged to seek early parliamentary elections.

Is Ukraine poised to plunge into a whirlwind of electioneering this year?

"We see that the situation is getting out of control, including the president's control," Party of Regions lawmaker Vasyl Kyselyov told journalists two days before submitting his draft bill to the legislature.

"Therefore I, as a people's deputy, am working out a draft bill, or a draft resolution, on simultaneous early presidential and parliamentary elections in the fall, approximately on September 30."

The next presidential election in Ukraine is due in 2009, the parliamentary ones in 2011.

Ruling Response

Kyselyov's initiative seems to be the ruling coalition's "asymmetric" response to the opposition's formalized vow to seek early parliamentary elections.

Will the Verkhovna Rada put the bill on early parliamentary and presidential elections on its agenda?

Ivan Bokyy, head of the Socialist Party parliamentary caucus, believes that if the political rivalry between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and President Viktor Yushchenko continues, Kyselov's proposal may be not only put to a vote but also endorsed by the ruling coalition.

"There is madness on the part of one political force, and the other political force has also begun to go mad and wants to propose this madness to all of Ukraine," Bokyy said. "But if this madness goes on, if this affliction is not cured on Bankova Street [in the presidential administration] or in parliament, if there is not enough sense to realize that playing with the idea of the dissolution of parliament is hopeless, we will have to support this [bill]."

"If this madness goes on..., if there is not enough sense to realize that playing with the idea of the dissolution of parliament is hopeless, we will have to support this [bill]." -- the Socialist Party's Ivan Bokyy

Yanukovych and Yushchenko have recently locked horns with each other over a bill that extends the powers of the cabinet and the parliament at the expense of the president.

Yushchenko vetoed the bill but the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party managed to override his veto with the help of the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. Yushchenko subsequently appealed against the bill to the Constitutional Court.

In what seemed to be a political tit for tat, the ruling coalition rejected Yushchenko's nominees for the posts of foreign minister and head of the Security Service.

Shaky Legal Ground

Ukrainian political analyst Kostyantyn Bondarenko believes that early elections could be a way out of the current political standoff in Ukraine.

"There are no legal grounds [for early polls] but there is a problem of confrontation and a problem of the dead end in which Ukraine has found itself because of the institutional confrontation between the Cabinet of Ministers and the Presidential Secretariat," Bondarenko said. "[Such elections] would not be the worst scenario."

Bondarenko is right in suggesting that Kyselyov's draft bill on holding early parliamentary and presidential polls makes no legal sense.

Staging early parliamentary elections is the exclusive constitutional prerogative of the president, who calls for such polls if the Verkhovna Rada fails to form a majority within 30 days after its first sitting or a new cabinet within 60 day after the dismissal or resignation of the previous one; or, if it fails to gather for a sitting within 30 days during an ongoing parliamentary session.

Thus, in order to produce formal grounds for early parliamentary elections, the ruling coalition would need to prohibit its lawmakers from convening for a month rather than pass a bill with no legal force.

Supporters of Yanukovych (left) and Yushchenko are engaged in tit for tat (epa)

On the other hand, the opposition could create prerequisites for early parliamentary polls by challenging the legality of Yanukovych's cabinet before the Constitutional Court.

The current Verkhovna Rada convened for its first sitting in late May 2006. The parliamentary majority supporting Yanukovych's cabinet was formed in early August 2006, thus apparently overstepping the time frame set by the constitution by more than a month. Consequently, if the Constitutional Court confirmed that Yanukovych's cabinet was formed beyond this time frame, Yushchenko could dissolve the legislature and call for new elections.

The Basic Law

The Ukrainian Constitution stipulates that an early presidential ballot may be held only after the incumbent president has resigned or died, has been unable to perform his duties because of his health, or has been impeached by parliament. Clearly, no such preconditions are present in Ukraine.

Lawmakers from the ruling coalition seem to realize, too, that Kyselyov's draft bill is more of a propaganda move than a real threat to Yushchenko's presidency. Lawmaker Volodymyr Zubanov from the Party of Regions suggested that Yushchenko could resign as Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first president, did in 1994 in order to defuse a political confrontation.

The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc can expect about 28 percent of the vote in new parliamentary elections.

"In 1994, when there was a parliamentary and presidential crisis, Kravchuk agreed to leave his post before the end of his term and hold an early election," Zubanov said. "I think that today it would be timely for Yushchenko to step down and hold early [parliamentary and presidential] elections on September 30."

But Yushchenko has no intention of following in Kravchuk's steps. Last week Yushchenko said the idea to hold an early presidential election is "provocation, blackmail, and psychological pressure." According to him, potential early parliamentary elections would reinstall the same political forces in parliament that are there now.

This week, Yanukovych also went public and said that the calls for early parliamentary and presidential elections are "groundless." Yanukovych's statement may imply a withdrawal of Kyselyov's draft bill from the legislative agenda.

The Tymoshenko Factor

However, the topic of early parliamentary elections is likely to remain on the public agenda in Ukraine. This because the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, a major opposition force in the country, seems to be interested in having such polls.

According to recent sociological surveys, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc could count on some 28 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections -- that is, 6 percent more than it won in the March 2006 ballot.

Surveys also suggest that the Party of Regions could repeat its election result from 2006 by winning 32 percent of the vote. The heaviest losers would be Our Ukraine with only 7 percent of the vote (14 percent in 2006) and the Socialist Party, which currently scores below the 4 percent voting threshold required for parliamentary representation.

Yuliya Tymoshenko, who had a series of high-profile meetings and talks in Washington last week, returned to Kyiv with the news that the West would support early parliamentary elections in Ukraine if they were "constitutional, democratic, and legal." She appears determined to pursue the early-election idea for some more time.

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

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