Despite Coalition, Parliament Off To A Rough Start

KIEV, Ukraine -- Three months of protracted negotiations over the forming of a parliamentary majority came to an end on June 22 with Ukraine’s three Orange political factions finally coming together to sign a coalition agreement that will form the basis of the next government.

However, the tentative allies, as well as the opposition, continued to employ stalling tactics as the Post went to press on June 27.

The pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), and the Socialist Party signed the June 22 accord not only as the constitutionally allotted timeframe for establishing a parliamentary coalition was coming to an end, but also as Ukraine prepared to commemorate on June 28 the 10-year anniversary of the adoption of its Constitution, in 1996.

An amended version of the Constitution, adopted in December 2004 as a part of a compromise that brokered an end to the political crisis known as the Orange Revolution, shifted key powers from the president to parliament.

The recent coalition agreement finally settled which political factions would control the now more powerful prime minister and parliamentary speaker posts.

BYuT, as the largest member of the coalition, having received 129 seats in the March 26 elections, will nominate the candidate for prime minister, undoubtedly harkening the return of the bloc’s leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, to head the new government. Our Ukraine, as the second largest coalition member, with 80 seats, announced on June 27 that their bloc would nominate Petro Poroshenko, a business mogul and close associate of President Viktor Yushchenko, as parliamentary speaker.

However, lingering questions about the constitutionality of the package of reforms adopted during the Orange Revolution, ongoing negotiations as to when the parliament will swear in judges long ago appointed to Ukraine’s Constitutional Court, which could be called upon by Yushchenko to review the reforms, and the opposition’s blockade of parliament on June 27 illustrate that despite the establishment of a coalition, Ukraine’s transition to a parliamentary-presidential republic is far from over.

The Orange coalition agreement brought an end to months of speculation as to whether Our Ukraine would choose to form a government with its allies during the Orange Revolution – the SPU and BYuT – or build a coalition with the Party of Regions, the largest of the new parliament’s two opposition parties, which bitterly competed for the presidency against Yushchenko in 2004, setting off the Orange Revolution.

Yuriy Yakymenko, an analyst from the Razumkov Center think tank, noted that there was more than one factor contributing to the June 22 accord, including that more Ukrainians preferred an Orange coalition than one with Regions, and that Our Ukraine had more in common with BYuT and the SPU in terms of policy orientation, and as such, there were fewer issues to overcome during negotiations.

However, he added that the final contributing factor was that the timeframe for forming a coalition, explicitly outlined in the Constitution, was almost over.

“Everyone was working toward a specific outcome during these negotiations. But ultimately, the choice was either to make some concessions to form a coalition and get at least something, or not to reach a compromise, possibly forcing the dismissal of parliament and new elections and getting nothing,” Yakymenko said.

According to recent polls, Our Ukraine could lose even more votes to Tymoshenko if new parliamentary elections were held.

Political experts have welcomed the establishment of a parliamentary coalition as a positive step, adding that despite protracted negotiations, the coalition agreement was in itself an indicator of significant changes in Ukraine’s political system.

Dr. Olexiy Haran, the regional vice president of the Eurasia Foundation, noted that “this is the first time that Ukraine has had a parliament structured along party lines, and these parties have negotiated to create a coalition,” adding that a coalition government, common in Europe, is a step toward European standards for Ukraine.

Moreover, he added, “Ukraine’s new political system resembles in some ways the French “cohabitation” model, where the prime minister and president must cooperate.”

Experts anticipate that the government formed by this coalition has a better chance of functioning and holding together than the previous Orange team, which fell apart when Yushchenko dismissed Tymoshenko as premier in September 2005, amid allegations that she, now likely to be the country’s next premier, shook investor confidence and poorly managed Ukraine’s economy.

Yakymenko said “there are two important reasons why the new coalition government should function more effectively. First, the coalition partners have significant negative experiences to draw upon, having witnessed the consequences of perpetually arguing among themselves… and this is one of the reasons the coalition process took so long.”

Secondly, he said, the coalition agreement itself outlines mechanisms that put checks on coalition members, and explicit steps that should be taken if the coalition does not hold together.

For example, according to Yakymenko, the coalition agreement stipulates that members cannot raise issues during parliamentary sessions that have not been previously agreed upon by the Council of the coalition.

And, he added, although not a part of the coalition accord, the Orange coalition will probably vote through the parliamentary speaker and the prime minister in a “packet,” an agreement that would help ensure that coalition members vote through both nominees instead of voting for one and not the other.

If and when the coalition coalesces and forms a functioning government, these measures should theoretically diminish public divisiveness in parliament and encourage cooperation among the coalition members.

However, as the Post went to press on June 27, Our Ukraine’s position appeared to have changed once again, with the newly nominated parliamentary speaker, Petro Poroshenko, announcing that Our Ukraine does not categorically insist on voting through both the prime minister and speaker together in a packet, insofar as the pro-presidential party is counting on all sides to fulfill the coalition agreement with respect to the distribution and appointment of government and ministerial positions.

In the meantime, the parliament’s largest faction, the Donetsk-based Party of Regions, threatened to frustrate work in the parliament on June 26 if the Verkhovna Rada’s leaders are not elected by parliamentary procedure, which stipulates that the speaker should be elected by virtue of a secret ballot individually and not as a part of a “packet.” Moreover, Regions is demanding that parliamentary committees be distributed among all factions proportionally, including their own.

Eurasia Foundation’s Haran noted that “the effectiveness of the new Ukrainian coalition will depend on implementation of the priorities laid out in the coalition agreement, with its clearer divisions of power and political, judicial, and public administration reforms.”

Even if the new Orange coalition may benefit from greater experience and more clearly delineated responsibilities, this past week has shown that this certainly does not ensure that the new government will be introduced smoothly.

Poroshenko’s candidacy for speaker was announced on June 27 as the Party of Regions simultaneously disrupted the Verkhovna Rada’s plenary session, blocking off the podium, presidium, the places in parliament where the president and government sit, as well as the electronic system “Rada,” which allows people’s deputies to register and vote.

The coalition had planned to raise the question of voting on the speaker and prime minister on June 29, according to Tymoshenko, provided that Our Ukraine had selected its nominee for speaker.

Based on what occurred in parliament on June 27, Our Ukraine’s Mykhail Pozkyvanov stated at a press conference that “one possibility is to gather in another location and continue working, especially because we [the coalition] now have a majority,” not ruling out the possibility that Regions’ will continue its blockade into June 29.

On June 26, Our Ukraine proposed that at this disrupted June 27 parliament session, the Rada should swear in the Constitutional Court judges appointed by President Viktor Yushchenko last year. The previous parliament refused to administer the oath despite repeated requests by the president beginning in late 2005, and as a result, Ukraine has since been without a functioning Constitutional Court.

Our Ukraine’s Mykola Katerynchuk stated that the Communist Party of Ukraine, the new parliament’s second opposition party, intended to physically block the swearing-in process, possibly going as far as keeping President Yushchenko from entering the parliament, because the ceremony itself requires the presence of the president, parliamentary speaker and prime minister. Regions’ blockade in parliament effectively achieves the same objective, by bringing the parliament to a grinding halt.

An added complication is that in late May 2006, Yushchenko himself stated that he would not submit the candidacy of the newly appointed prime minister and parliamentary speaker, essentially a parliamentary formality, unless his appointed judges to the Constitutional Court were sworn in beforehand.

This is more than an exercise in checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches. At issue here is also the constitutionality of the reforms adopted in December 2004, which redistributed some of the extensive presidential powers that former President Leonid Kuchma had amassed during his two terms in office to the parliament, among other changes.

However, the legislative and constitutional reforms also effectively narrowed rather than widened the scope of public representation in the government, according to Vsevolod Rechytskyj, a professor of constitutional law at the National Academy of Law in Kharkiv.

One example is the change to the parliamentary election law, which, in addition to eliminating majority districts, restricts eligible people’s deputies to those running on party lists, excluding the possibility of independent locally supported candidates.

A long proponent of constitutional reforms, Oleksandr Moroz, whose Socialist party rounds out the Orange coalition and will nominate the first deputy prime minister, argued that the speaker and prime minister should be voted in before swearing in constitutional court judges.

Even though the reforms brokered in the context of the Orange revolution are unlikely to be overturned by the Constitutional Court, given the very complicated nature of this political-legal compromise, according to Yakymenko, lingering questions over their constitutionality threaten to hold up more immediate and pressing political objectives.

Source: Kyiv Post