President Viktor Yushchenko recently compared parliament to a group of demobilized soldiers who got drunk on a homebound train and missed their station. When will Ukraine's political class sober up?
On June 5, Yushchenko issued his third decree in just two months calling for early parliamentary elections in the country, this time on September 30.
The decree followed the adoption on June 1 of a package of legislation necessary to hold fresh polls, including amendments to the election law and the 2007 budget to provide funds for the election campaign.
The decree was formally based on Article 82 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which stipulates that the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada becomes illegitimate if it shrinks to fewer than 300 deputies.
To meet this precondition -- which was a key provision in the early-election deal struck by Yushchenko, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on May 27 -- 169 opposition lawmakers reportedly submitted their resignations on June 1.
The following day, these resignations were formally confirmed by conventions of Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc.
Both opposition parties simultaneously adopted resolutions to invalidate their complete lists of candidates for the 2006 parliamentary elections, in order to prevent the replacement of those deputies who gave up their mandates with fresh people from lower positions on the lists.
When most observers of the Ukrainian political scene were beginning to assess electoral chances of major political parties in Ukraine, Verkhovna Rada head Moroz put in doubt the lawfulness of Yushchenko's third decree on snap elections.
Moroz told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on June 12 that the Verkhovna Rada obtained just 79 reliable resignation statements from opposition lawmakers, meaning that Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc will still need to persuade at least 72 of their deputies to give up their parliamentary seats.
Moroz declared that as long as he does not see 151 acceptable resignations, the current legislature remains legitimate and early elections are ruled out. He also stressed the role of the Central Election Commission (TsVK) in terminating the Verkhovna Rada.
"I am interested [only] in the situation when the TsVK is unable to send us a single deputy to replace those who resigned, and when there arefewer than 300 deputies in the session hall," Moroz said. "Then we can say that there are preconditions for a presidential decree [on early polls]. So far there have been no such preconditions, and the presidential decree [of June 5] is unconstitutional."
According to the Ukrainian speaker, the conventions held by Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc to annul their 2006 election lists were not sufficient -- the invalidations need to be formally approved by the Central Election Commission.
Additionally, Moroz argued that, according to the election law amended on June 1, the president has the right to decree early elections no sooner than 60 days before the election date, that is, on August 1.
Moroz also told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that he does not believe that early elections will improve the political climate in Ukraine.
"Ukraine remains in an artificially created political conflict, which discredits all government institutions and poses a colossal threat to its statehood," Moroz said. "If we look at the situation from this point of view, we will have to take adequate measures. Regrettably, the preterm elections will not neutralize this conflict; quite the opposite, they will deepen it."
Speaking at a news conference in Kyiv on June 13, Yushchenko reiterated his stance that the Verkhovna Rada ceased to be legitimate after the resignation of opposition deputies and the confirmation of this step by Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc.
"The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has legitimate authority if it has no less than two-thirds of the number of deputies determined by the constitution," Yushchenko said. "Today, it does not have the two-thirds required by the constitution because Paragraph 6 of Article 82 has come into effect, which says that in the event of a people's deputy leaving a [parliamentary] faction, his or her mandate expires before the end of his or her term in parliament, following a decision by the top governing body of his or her political party, effective upon the date that decision was made."
Yushchenko accused Moroz of "manipulation" in order to delay the resolution of the political crisis.
Yushchenko also suggested that Moroz's reluctance to terminate the work of the Verkhovna Rada is dictated by the latter's fear that he may not be elected to the next legislature. All sociological surveys held in Ukraine in the past several months indicate that electoral support for Moroz's Socialist Party is well below the 3 percent voting threshold required for parliamentary representation.
Yushchenko assured journalists that early elections will take place on September 30, but he did not elaborate on measures he may take if the ruling coalition refuses to participate in them. He only stressed that resolving the current standoff in Ukraine is a question of honor for the Ukrainian political elite.
"Elections on September 30 are inevitable," he said. "The question is not about that today. The question is whether or not we already have a tradition among top politicians of resolving political crises with dignity, honor, and honesty."
The Ukrainian president is likely to succeed in enforcing his early-election decree. But it is quite apparent that the longer the current crisis lasts, the less political dignity and honor will be in its resolution.