Ukraine: The Power Of A Second Chance
PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Now that President Viktor Yushchenko has confirmed that he wants the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (NUNS) bloc to form a ruling coalition, the two Orange Revolution allies may have a second chance to deliver on the promises they solemnly made in 2004 and disappointingly failed to meet.
But while Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko have already shown some public signs of unity -- most recently in Lisbon on October 18, where each espoused the virtues of European values during a congress of the European People's Party -- the question remains as to whether they have overcome their past differences sufficiently to run a new government.
After Yushchenko backed the pairing on October 17, Tymoshenko and Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, a leader of the pro-Yushchenko NUNS, presented the coalition deal they initialed on October 15. The entire 105-page document was subsequently published on the Internet.
The most important provisions of the deal state that Tymoshenko is to be proposed as prime minister, while the NUNS bloc will nominate a candidate for the post of parliamentary speaker. Cabinet portfolios are to be distributed on a 50-50 basis between the two blocs.
The deal makes room for a third "democratically oriented" participant in the coalition, although it does not mention it by name. It does, however, clearly stipulate that neither the Party of Regions nor the Communist Party can be considered as a potential coalition partner, thus narrowing the field to only the Lytvyn Bloc, which has 20 lawmakers in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.
The overwhelming feeling of deja vu that Ukraine observers may experience upon hearing such news is quite understandable.
A similar, if somewhat shorter, coalition document was preliminarily signed by the BYuT and Our Ukraine immediately after the March 2006 elections. At that time, the desired third coalition partner was the Socialist Party, which failed to win parliamentary seats this year.
After four months of futile coalition talks in 2006, the Socialists switched sides and formed a ruling majority with the Party of Regions and the Communists. President Yushchenko had no choice in August 2006 but to designate Viktor Yanukovych, his bitter political rival, as prime minister.
Could such a situation repeat itself this year? Could the NUNS bloc eventually abandon Tymoshenko and form a "broad" coalition with the Party of Regions, thus uniting the west and the east of Ukraine politically, if not ideologically or emotionally? Such a turn of events cannot be ruled out.
Tymoshenko, for whom the regained post of prime minister could be a much-coveted springboard for launching a presidential bid in 2009, has already made many compromises in order to ensure President Yushchenko's support for her attempt to lead the government once again.
To begin with, she agreed to give the NUNS bloc half of the cabinet portfolios, although her party won 156 parliamentary mandates versus NUNS's 72.
Furthermore, she agreed to endorse a package of 12 bills ahead of the expected vote on her approval as prime minister in the newly elected parliament. Some of the proposed bills, including one on the Cabinet of Ministers, significantly reinforce presidential powers at the expense of those of the prime minister.
An Uncertain Majority
But not even such concessions can guarantee that Tymoshenko will be vested with the powers she craves. BYuT and NUNS together have 228 votes, just two more than the majority required to pass most legislation in the Verkhovna Rada, including the approval of a new cabinet.
Tymoshenko can expect voting discipline within the BYuT ranks, but the NUNS bloc is a motley collection of nine political groups. What if the interests of one of these groups are not duly taken into account in the distribution of post-election spoils? In such a situation, it would not appear to be difficult to persuade just three lawmakers from a dissatisfied NUNS component to skip or abstain from a crucial vote.
It also seems unlikely that the Party of Regions will allow the Orange Revolution allies to adopt the 12 bills Tymoshenko has promised to endorse, which are sine qua non for starting the new government.
The Party of Regions will almost certainly demand separate votes on each of the proposed bills in order to exhaust the combat spirit of the Orange allies and nip their coalition-building effort in the bud. Attempts to block the parliamentary rostrum and even fistfights among lawmakers are not out of the question -- and are even likely -- at the inauguration of a new Verkhovna Rada.
But even if the Orange coalition manages to pass the 12 bills to please Yushchenko, approves Tymoshenko as prime minister, and appeases the hunger of all the NUNS constituents for political jobs, the problem of how to mobilize 226 votes for each individual piece of legislation in the future will remain an issue.
The Lytvyn Bloc, which could stabilize the slim Orange majority, is not eager to reveal its political preferences or appetites. Perhaps it is just waiting for a worthy piece of post-election pie in exchange for its role of kingmaker. But what if the Lytvyn Bloc has decided not to meddle in what seems to be an unavoidable exchange of blows between the BYuT and the Party of Regions, and has chosen an observer role? In that case, the Orange allies will need a political miracle or two to get their ruling partnership going.
On the other hand, a restored Orange coalition appears to be the only way for Yushchenko to perpetuate hopes for launching his presidential bid in 2009. If the president were to again nominate Yanukovych as prime minister, he would stand to lose even the dramatically dwindled support he currently enjoys in western Ukraine.
Eyes On The Next Goal
Tymoshenko has unequivocally declared that she will immediately starts working on her presidential bid if she fails to get the post of prime minister.
It is easy to predict that, given the current distribution of political sympathies in Ukraine, Yushchenko has no chance of qualifying for the second round in the next presidential polls. But keeping Tymoshenko in the government would provide Yushchenko a glimmer of hope -- either by satisfying her political appetite, or by tarnishing her image as a competent and efficient politician who can deliver on her promises.
Tymoshenko has made a lot of unworkable election promises during the campaign, including one on returning lost Soviet-era savings to Ukrainians within the next two years-- an endeavor that would require a sum equal to Ukraine's annual budget.
Another apparently unrealistic pledge, which was written down in the coalition deal, is to abolish the military draft in Ukraine as of the beginning of 2008 and switch to a fully professional army in 2009.
When asked about the plan on the sidelines of the October 18 congress in Lisbon, President Yushchenko told reporters that "I'd like to tell my political friends and colleagues: They may develop certain visions at their level or they may not, but today I'd advise them to follow the National Program for the Development of the Ukrainian Armed Forces."
And Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, bewildered after reading the coalition-deal passage pertaining to the military draft, compared it with abolishing Newton's three laws of motion.
Thus, the birth of a new government in Ukraine is taking place on shaky ground and amid heightened expectations of economic and political wonders. Ukraine already has its fairy-tale heroine with a fetching blonde braid -- now comes the time for her to work her magic.
Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty