Another Summer Of Discontent In Ukrainian Politics

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ever since Ukraine’s Orange Revolution swept pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko into power, summer has been a time of particular discontent in the country’s political life.

President Viktor Yushchenko

The summer of 2005 saw infighting in the Orange camp escalate into Yushchenko’s firing of co-revolutionary Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

In 2006, the president alienated another Orange ally, Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz, who defected to join a coalition with Orange enemy Viktor Yanukovych.

By the summer of 2007, Yushchenko was forced to call early parliamentary elections to keep Yanukovych from muscling away his executive power.

Now, in 2008, the president is again faced with the prospect of dismissing the parliament, but this time to restrain the presidential ambitions of the resurgent second-time Prime Minister Tymoshenko.

Each of the last four political crises that hit Ukraine as the weather got warmer ended up being resolved, at least temporarily, by the following autumn.

Yushchenko ruled supreme by the end of 2005. The next year, Yanukovych exacted revenge for his humiliating defeat during the Orange Revolution by returning as premier at the close of summer. Tymoshenko's year was 2007, when she retook the government following the snap election held in September.

This year, analysts are also predicting a fall resolution, but it's still not clear which of Ukraine's three political heavyweights will come out on top and take the lead in advance of next year's presidential race.

The spark that set off this summer's political crisis was an announcement made this month by two lawmakers of their departure from the paper-thin Orange majority in parliament.

The coalition between the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) and the faction that was endorsed during the last parliamentary elections by President Yushchenko (Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense: OU-PSD) has shown cracks ever since it was formed.

Earlier this year, a handful of deputies from OU-PSD announced that they were forming their own party, United Center, but stopped short of leaving the coalition.

Responsibility for both of these political tactics, aimed at undermining the workability and credibility of the Orange coalition, has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the president's Secretariat.

Besides blaming Tymoshenko for the country's double -digit inflation, the president has already done everything in his power to sabotage her privatization plan, thus preventing the government from financing any populist programs that would increase the premier's voter support.

Mr. Yushchenko, it is said, not only wants to paralyze the Tymoshenko government's operability in the legislature but to replace the Orange coalition with a grand coalition in partnership with Yanukovych's opposition Regions party.

According to this theory, United Center is supposed to recruit enough lawmakers from the Orange coalition to compose a majority with Regions and the tiny Bloc of Volodymyr Lytvyn. BYuT and the parliament's fifth faction, the Communists, would effectively be sidelined on opposite ends of the playing field.

However, there are several complications with this scheme, most of which don't bode well for its supposed architect: President Yushchenko.

First, even if Yushchenko were able to form a grand coalition with the man he accused of trying to steal the presidency during the 2004 elections (Yanukovych), the president would only alienate the few Orange voters who still support him and thus be assured of not being re-elected next year.

Second, by all accounts, neither Yanukovych nor Lytvyn is interested in such a deal. Yanukovych would surely again demand the prime minister's seat, from which he would be just as much of a threat to Yushchenko as he was the last time. As for Lytvyn, whose faction barely made it over the hurdle during the last elections, his only chance for political survival is to present Ukrainian voters with an alternative to his incessantly quarreling colleagues.

Thirdly, Tymoshenko would feel quite comfortable back in opposition, where she couldn't be blamed for continuing inflation, especially after the Russians again raise the price of the gas they export to Ukraine, as is expected later this year.

On the other hand, the president could be toying with his former Orange ally, slowly building up the pressure on her while winning time to garner greater support among Orange lawmakers, the public and the international community.

If that is the case, Tymoshenko isn't sitting on her hands. Although no where near the extent of the president's, Tymoshenko's ratings have also dropped, as voters tire of the seemingly never-ending Orange infighting.

However, the fiery female politician has a knack for populist gestures, with or without adequate funding. Coming into next year's presidential campaign, she can still take credit for compensating Ukrainians for their Soviet savings lost to runaway inflation.

More recently, the premier visited Western Ukraine, which is still recovering from a particularly violent storm. In Lviv, Tymoshenko promised Hr 25 million in government aid.

On the international front, Tymoshenko has also been busy. Last week, she dropped in to Brussels for the quarterly meeting of the European People's Party, which is attended by Western heavyweights such as Javier Solana, Silvio Berlusconi and Angela Merkel.

Solana personally praised the Ukrainian government's economic performance, including its fight to control inflation. Guided by her foreign policy supremo Hryhory Nemiriya, Tymoshenko was photographed with all the right people.

The Brussels trip was particularly successful in light of Yushchenko's falling out there. Last week, the Ukrainian president made things worse by snubbing a delegation from the European People's Party during their visit to Kyiv.

Nevertheless, in parliament, the president may still have a few cards up his sleeve. The lawmakers in Tymoshenko's faction are loyal to their own interests, which depend on BYuT's success in elections.

During the recent Kyiv mayoral elections, Tymoshenko's candidate was beaten by the president's choice, damaging her image as an undefeatable political force.

In addition, Tymoshenko's former political benefactor, one-time Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko, who was jailed in the US on money laundering charges, is rumored to be getting out soon.

If he should return to Ukraine and start making accusations against Ms. Tymoshenko, her fellow faction members might bolt.

However, Yushchenko no longer has the "saintly" status he enjoyed immediately after the Orange Revolution. The Our Ukraine party, which Yushchenko led right up to becoming president in 2005, can now hardly be called his, especially after the president supported a rival in the Kyiv mayoral elections.

And despite claims by his Secretariat to the contrary, the president can hardly pretend before voters to be uninvolved in the chaos that is the current Orange coalition, that is the Ukraine's perennial summer of discontent.

Source: Eurasian Home