Parliament On Brink Of Dissolution Amid Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- Amid calls this week for national unity and reconciliation by parliamentary factions on both sides of the country’s latest political divide – the remnants of the Orange Revolution camp and a recently forged alliance between leftists and pro-Russian interests.

A supporter of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko gestures during a demonstration near the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev

All eyes are fixed on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, and whether or not he will move to dissolve the legislature just four months after it was elected and days before it is due to take its summer recess.

Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz, the emboldened parliamentary speaker who just weeks ago was allied with the Orange camp, openly challenged the president’s authority to dissolve parliament on July 24, saying that he would not obey a decision to do so even if Yushchenko took such a decision.

As of midnight on July 24, 60 days had passed since the government of acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, appointed by Yushchenko, formally resigned, following the March 26 parliamentary elections. As lawmakers have been unable to form a government before the two month deadline,President Yushchenko has the option of dissolving the Rada and calling fresh elections.

However, with the popularity of Yushchenko and his pro-presidential Our Ukraine party at an all-time low among voters, the hero of the Orange Revolution is unlikely to risk going through another general election.

In the meantime, the so-called Anti-Crisis Coalition – consisting of the Communists, the Socialists and the Donetsk-based Party of the Regions, who recently put together a surprise parliamentary majority – continues to push for the president to submit Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych for the post of prime minister.

Yanukovych was Yushchenko’s opponent in the 2004 elections, which were widely criticized as fraudulent, leading to the country’s Orange Revolution.

The formation of a government, which the parliamentary majority appoints in the main but in which the president also plays a role, has been the prerogative of lawmakers following controversial constitutional changes that came into effect at the start of 2006.

With lawmakers holding up the swearing in of new judges, the Constitutional Court cannot form a quorum and so ongoing problems in the formation of a new government and its policy agenda can only truly be settled by an agreement between the president and the parliament.

And without an operational Constitutional Court to adjudicate conflicts between the executive and legislative branches, the repercussions for what is widely perceived as inaction by the president remain unclear.

Another legal nuance coming into play is that the Anti-Crisis Coalition repeated its submission of Yanukovych’s candidacy for premier on July 18, which gives the president until Aug. 2 to consider the candidacy, and more time for him to negotiate for additional influence in the next government.

According to parliament’s schedule, lawmakers are due to start their summer recess on July 28.

Observers and political opponents have blamed the current crisis in parliament on Yushchenko’s reluctance to form a coalition with former Orange allies, the Socialists and the bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, for fear of the popularity of Tymoshenko, whom Yushchenko fired as premier last fall.

But the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc continues to negotiate with the Anti-Crisis coalition, in order to secure key positions in a government formed by either a broad coalition that includes Our Ukraine, or one in which the rights of opposition parties are secured.

Roman Besmertniy, faction leader of Our Ukraine, has called for a tight dialogue between parliamentary factions during the Rada’s July 24 session, one that “would ensure the rights of the majority and its ability to work, and no less the rights of the minority to criticize the majority.”

However, Our Ukraine’s bargaining position, largely based on its image as the president’s faction, has been weakened over the last four months, as its public support steadily declines.

At this stage, according to Vadym Karasiov, the director of the Institute of Global Strategies, the president is currently “negotiating over his candidates for key positions from Our Ukraine in a government with Regions … to ensure that they get key positions, including the budget committee, the minister of internal affairs and the first vice president of [state oil and gas company] Naftogaz Ukrayiny.”

It’s doubtful that Regions would reconsider its submission of Yanukovych as premier, even though political experts have suggested that the post could be leveraged by both sides as part of the bargaining process. Moreover, Regions will hold onto some of its more controversial July 18 parliamentary committee appointments, such as former Kharkiv governor Yevhen Kushnaryov as the chairman of the committee on legal policy, and former head of the Central Election Commission Serhiy Kivalov, as the chairman of the justice committee.

“This will not change … the Party of Regions will not give up these committees,” said Karasiov, adding that these committees give the party significant control over the formation of the legislative branch of government.

As chair of the justice committee, Kivalov would exercise significant influence over the list of Constitutional Court judges that will eventually be submitted to parliament for a long-awaited vote and swearing in ceremony.

Kivalov headed the Central Electoral Commission and Kushnaryov was the governor of Kharkiv Region during the 2004 presidential elections, in which widespread fraud was recorded in Kyiv and the country’s eastern regions.

Parliament challenges president

Despite ongoing negotiations between the pro-presidential Our Ukraine, and the Anti-Crisis Coalition, some coalition members have made pronouncements that appear to be an attempt to force the president’s hand.

At parliament’s July 25 session, one day after Moroz had announced that he would not honor a decision by the president to dissolve parliament, in a strange twist, 239 deputies retroactively overturned the previous parliament’s resolution to dismiss current acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov’s government on Jan. 10, 2006.

The dismissal was supported by Orange and other parties following a controversial gas deal with Russia that Yekhanurov’s government oversaw.

The July 25 decision came after Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych, Our Ukraine’s Beszmertniy, and Ivan Bokiy from the Socialist party had called for national unity and reconciliation in the interests of the Ukrainian people.

MP Yuriy Kliuchkovsky, the president’s representative in parliament, called this maneuver a political game and said that those initiating it were hoping that they’d removed one of several legal pretexts that allow the president to dismiss parliament.

Kliuchkovsky further stated that the initial decision to dismiss Yekhanurov’s cabinet on January 10 violated “a whole series of norms in the old constitution,” and that the Verkhovna Rada made the decision on the basis of norms and regulations in the new constitution.

Fedir Venislavsky, assistant professor of constitutional law at Kharkiv’s Yaroslav Mudriy National Law Academy, noted that not only was this decision legally groundless, the last parliament’s decision to dismiss the Yekhanurov government also violated procedures outlined in the constitution, “and that anyone of sound mind would overturn it.”

However, he added, that “the decision to overturn the dismissal was not legally, but politically, motivated … and the president still has the right to dissolve parliament.”

Moreover, he said that constitutional experts consider “that the discontinuation of a government mandate, regardless of the terms, or rather whether it had been dismissed or resigned its mandate, is effectively a dismissal,” adding that from a legal perspective President Yushchenko has grounds to dismiss parliament under any circumstances if there has not been a government formed within 60 days.

In this context, the decision by the Anti-Crisis coalition to overturn the dismissal of Yekhanurov appears to be a public relations move, perhaps to give the appearance that they are narrowing the set of options left to Yushchenko for resolving this political crisis.

All the while, the faction of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc is continuing its boycott of parliament, which it began July 20. Tymoshenko said July 26 that “we will not return to the session hall unless the president endorses a relevant decision and the situation is cleared.”

After four months of protracted coalition negotiations it appears that political proclamations, however impassioned, have little potential to speed up the process, and that Yushchenko may very well take all the time he needs to negotiate a coalition better suited to his overall policy agenda.

Source: Kyiv Post