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Has Ukraine's Orange Coalition Reached Point Of No Return?

Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko (right) during friendlier times
Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko (right) during friendlier times
In announcing the collapse of the coalition government formed by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko accused his Orange Revolution ally of joining forces with rival parties, while some of his aides suggested that Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko might have even betrayed national interests.

Yushchenko's September 3 statement, accompanied by a warning that he would call new parliamentary elections, came in response to a vote the same day in the Verkhovna Rada, in which the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), the Party of Regions, the Lytvyn Bloc, and the Communist Party joined forces to pass a bill on the cabinet of ministers and other legislation that strengthens the executive power of the government at the expense of the president.

Yushchenko branded these votes as a "political and constitutional coup d'etat," charging that the bill on the government upsets the balance of power in the country.

"This law establishes a dictatorship of the prime minister. It puts the head of the government above the constitution," Yushchenko said.

"Presidential decrees and decisions of the National Security and Defense Council are ignored completely. The changes to the law on the Constitutional Court make it impossible to appeal an unconstitutional ruling of the court. The government is outside any control, and the basic balance of government is ruined."

A similar law expanding the powers of the cabinet of ministers was already passed by the BYuT and the Party of Regions in December 2006 and reaffirmed, following a presidential veto, in January 2007. So, is this just another example of Ukrainian deja vu?

Tymoshenko's Strategy

Not exactly. The BYuT was in 2006-07 in opposition to the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, but Tymoshenko supported the bill in the hope that an anticipated conflict between Yushchenko and Yanukovych would return her to the chair of prime minister, from which she was banished by Yushchenko in September 2005.

Her expectations were vindicated. Yushchenko called for early elections in April 2007; they took place in September 2007 and made Tymoshenko once again the head of the government. So now, she hardly needs early parliamentary elections to improve her political standing. As everyone expected, now her coveted political goal is the presidential post, which is to be contested in early 2010. To position herself comfortably for that contest, she needs to stay in the post of prime minister as long as possible.

The BYuT argues that the current bill is necessary because of the constant meddling of the Presidential Secretariat and its head, Viktor Baloha, in the government's prerogatives. BYuT lawmaker Volodymyr Bondarenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on September 3 that the BYuT passed the bill on the cabinet jointly with the opposition in order to save the country from "being ruined."

"We do not have any [secret] arrangements with the Party of Regions. These votes yesterday were oriented toward saving the state," Bondarenko said.

"Because what is being done today -- when regional governors ask the permission of [Presidential Secretariat deputy head] Roman Bezsmertnyy before visiting the prime minister, and the vertical of power is being ruined -- hardly makes a state [out of Ukraine]."

Political Maneuvers

Speaking on television late on September 3, Tymoshenko called on the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (NUNS) bloc to return to the ruling coalition.

If within the subsequent 10 days the NUNS revokes its September 3 decision to leave the coalition, the government may continue to operate as if nothing happened. If not, another parliamentary coalition needs to be created within 30 days. If this fails to happen, the president has the constitutional right (but not obligation) to dissolve parliament and call for snap elections.

It seems than no political party in the current Verkhovna Rada is ready or willing to participate in new preterm elections just one year after the previous ones and two years after the regular ones. But what may happen now is anybody's guess.

Theoretically, the BYuT and the NUNS can make peace and continue running the government for a while until the next row. The NUNS can also make a coalition deal with the Party of Regions, as already occurred following the parliamentary elections in 2006. A coalition contract between the BYuT and the Party of Regions cannot be ruled out either, although it is less probable than the other options.

NUNS legislator Yuriy Karamzin told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on September 3 that there is no unity in the NUNS ranks as to the bloc's formal decision to abandon the coalition. According to Karamzin, the dispute can be quelled and the coalition with the BYuT restored.
Has Yulia Tymoshenko (left) reached out to Russia?

"In such cases, when the future of the country is decided, we need to convene a general meeting of the coalition. Unfortunately, this has not been done," he said. "It is 32 degrees Celsius in Kyiv today and, in my opinion, everybody has become overheated."

Karamzin may be right. Ukraine's domestic and foreign policies in the past few years were dictated more by personal animosities and private interests than truly national concerns.

Almost all analysts and commentators explain the uneasy relationship between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko by their hidden rivalry over who is to become the president in 2010. It appears that this rivalry is now coming to a head.

Last month, in a move that is widely believed to have been masterminded by Presidential Secretariat head Baloha, a presidential aide accused Tymoshenko of betraying Ukraine's state interests to Russia. Details are unknown, as the case is still being investigated by the Ukrainian Security Service, but everything reportedly boils down to the accusation that Tymoshenko promised Moscow to keep quiet about the recent Russian-Georgian conflict in exchange for Moscow's support in the 2010 presidential ballot.

The accusation seems preposterous and, as recent polls suggest, a majority of Ukrainians consider it a dirty PR trick against Tymoshenko with an eye to the upcoming presidential election.

But if the Yushchenko camp has actually begun a presidential campaign by portraying Tymoshenko as a pro-Moscow stooge and promoting Yushchenko, who has given unambiguous support to Georgia, as an anti-Moscow politician, then Ukraine is poised to plunge into even deeper political turmoil than it experienced in 2004.

The evil spirits of the country's East-West civilizational divide may again be called to work for private political interests. And the vision of a united Ukraine, so passionately promoted by both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko during the Orange Revolution, may once again fade away for many years to come.

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

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