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Ukraine: Agreement On Early Elections Remains Unclear

Do they understand each other? (epa) May 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has announced that he has agreed with President Viktor Yushchenko to hold early elections in order to overcome the current political standoff in Ukraine.

The president and the prime minister have created an anticrisis group to do all necessary paperwork for that purpose and have pledged to set the date of early polls within days.

But the anticrisis group seems to be bogged down in arguments about how to start the election campaign, thus casting doubts on whether Yushchenko and Yanukovych understood each other properly.

On May 4, Yushchenko and Yanukovych astonished journalists in Kyiv by stating that they had reached a compromise on the bitterly disputed issue of early parliamentary polls, which were ordered by two presidential decrees disbanding the Verkhovna Rada. The April 2 decree scheduled the elections for May 27, while the April 26 decree rescheduled them for June 24.

It is still not clear what were the main components of the political compromise between Yushchenko and Yanukovych.

The ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party refused to dissolve and appealed against both of Yushchenko's decrees to the Constitutional Court. Deputies from the opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc refused to participate in parliamentary sittings after April 2 and began preparations for pre-term polls.

Yanukovych said on May 4 that the immediate task following his deal with Yushchenko earlier the same day was to find "an algorithm of actions" for parliamentarians.

"The main goal of our joint decision is to hold fair and democratic elections. What should be done for that? We will now give instructions to the working group, which will work out an algorithm of actions for members of parliament, actions that will help stabilize the situation in the country," Yanukovych said.

Compromise Polls

But Yanukovych had apparent difficulties in explaining the reasons for his compromise with Yushchenko in a televised address to the nation on May 4, when he spoke primarily to thousands of his supporters who had came to Kyiv from the east and the south of Ukraine to support him and protest the dissolution of parliament.

Yanukovych said he agreed to early polls to prevent a split of the country and an economic ruin. And he alleged that the work of the Constitutional Court had been blocked, which made it impossible for the ruling coalition to overcome the crisis on the basis of jurisprudence. Yanukovych apparently referred to the dismissal of two Constitutional Court judges, Syuzanna Stanik and Valeriy Pshenichnyy, by Yushchenko several days earlier.

However, the sacking of Stanik and Pshenichnyy did not block the work of the Constitutional Court -- for holding legitimate sessions, the 18-member panel needs a quorum of 12 judges, and there were still 16 judges available. What the dismissal of the two judges may have blocked was the ability of the Constitutional Court to pass a decision favorable for Yanukovych.

Ukrainian political commentator Viktor Chyvokunya wrote on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website earlier this week that before the sacking of Stanik and Pshenichnyy, 11 judges were inclined to declare Yushchenko's decrees dissolving the Verkhovna Rada illegitimate. After the sacking, this number reportedly dropped to nine.

Constitutional Court

Since the Constitutional Court's decisions are legally binding only if they are endorsed by at least 10 judges, Chyvokunya argues that Yanukovych realized that early parliamentary polls could not be prevented by the Constitutional Court, and therefore he agreed to cooperate with Yushchenko in organizing them in order not to give up political initiative entirely to his rival.

It is still not clear what were the main components of the political compromise between Yushchenko and Yanukovych.

Yanukovych's people in the anticrisis working group, who continue to believe that Yushchenko's decrees of April 2 and April 26 are illegal, assert that Yushchenko promised to Yanukovych to return to the "legal framework" in dealing with the crisis, which means that the decision to dissolve the parliament should be made by deputies themselves.

Party of Regions lawmaker Taras Chornovil reiterated this belief to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on May 8: "The self-dissolution [of parliament] was agreed upon by the president and the prime minister. The decision was final. But for some reason [opposition politicians] are now going back on their words by arguing that the agreement was not quite to that effect. They consider for some reason that when the president spoke about suspending the Verkhovna Rada and calling for new elections on the basis of a political decision, [he wanted that] to be done on the basis of the presidential decree that disbands us."

But on the same day, President Yushchenko made a statement that appears to contradict Chornovil's words.

"It is not the parliament that makes decisions on pre-term parliamentary elections in Ukraine. It is an exclusive power of the president. But in this case I would welcome [the situation] if political forces in parliament reached a consensus on the date of pre-term parliamentary elections," Yushchenko said.

Working Group

The working group, which was initially expected to finish its work by May 8-9 and come up with a package of bills that were to be approved during a one-day parliamentary sitting to start an early election campaign, seems to have stuck in mutual accusations of disrupting the compromise reached by Yushchenko and Yanukovych.

In particular, the Socialists and the Communists, who reacted to the Yushchenko-Yanukovych deal with visible discontent, argue that parliament needs to amend the constitution in order to give lawmakers the right to dissolve themselves. According to these parties, only the Verkhovna Rada's self-dissolution allows to overcome the current crisis in a strictly legal way.

Since endorsing amendments to the constitution requires two parliamentary sittings within two different sessions, the Verkhovna Rada could dissolve itself no sooner than in September or October, while potential pre-term elections could be held no sooner than 60 days after that move. It is no surprise that the opposition accuses the ruling coalition of torpedoing the Yushchenko-Yanukovych deal.

Is there any other way out of the current political stalemate in Ukraine? Our Ukraine leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on May 8 that he does not lose his hope.

"We continue to believe that the working group is capable of producing a positive result, that in the coming days the Verkhovna Rada will convene a session with the participation of opposition deputies, and that we will approve five bills that will launch the electoral process for every participant without exception," Kyrylenko said.

"These [bills include] changes to the law on elections and the law on the status of a people's deputy as regards the introduction of imperative mandate, a resolution on holding early elections, and a number of other documents."

But even the biggest optimists in this regard acknowledge that any further progress toward early elections in Ukraine is impossible without another meeting of Yushchenko and Yanukovych, at which they will need to delineate more clearly the "algorithm of actions" they had in mind on May 4.

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

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