PM Sidetracks President Abroad

KIEV, Ukraine -- Despite coming to power on the wave of the Orange Revolution and having his party offered a place in a parliamentary majority following the last general election, President Viktor Yushchenko is now fighting for his and his party’s political future as the new parliamentary coalition put together by the Donetsk-based Party of Regions continues to chip away at his powers.

Yushchenko now finds himself at a crucial stage in his struggle to retain those powers he legitimately holds after losing many as a result of controversial constitutional amendments that came into effect in January.

The president is battling opponents in and beyond his Our Ukraine faction, with the coming weeks likely to force a decision as to whether the pro-presidential faction will join the pro-Russian coalition or go into opposition.

Our Ukraine, the flagship party of the Orange Revolution, is divided over its affinities. Even Yushchenko’s inner team is showing cracks, with long-time presidential ally Oleh Rybachuk being replaced as chief of the presidential secretariat last week.

At the same time, opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko, who has challenged Yushchenko’s right to head the country’s democratic movement, said she plans to make an announcement on Sept. 22 about the creation of a united opposition force.

Tymoshenko, who had stood side by side with Yushchenko during his fight for the presidency against Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2004, has said that her bloc is preparing to create an inter-factional opposition association, which would be joined by lawmakers from Our Ukraine and defectors from the Regions-led coalition.

Foreign policy questioned

The political temperature rose last week when Prime Minister Yanukovych said during his official visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels that Ukraine would be taking a break in its attempts to join NATO, though it would still be striving to enter the EU. In practical terms, joining NATO has preceded EU membership.

Yushchenko has ardently supported Ukraine’s Western integration. The day after the visit, Yushchenko and Yanukovych held a long discussion. Afterwards, Yushchenko told the media that he had given Yanukovych his first political warning for things certain government executives were doing.

Yushchenko was supported by Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk, both pro-Western figures occupying positions that Yushchenko still has the right to fill. Hrytsenko said Ukraine would continue to implement the NATO membership Action Plan, regardless. Tarasiuk said Yanukovych has no authority to formulate foreign policy, since the Constitution says the president oversees its implementation.

Ever since Yanukovych became premier he has, with the help of Socialist parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz, been pushing the president aside.

On Sept. 17 Moroz told Yushchenko that he would sign laws that the president vetoed if the vetoes had been overcome and Yushchenko still refused to sign them. Moroz’s behavior during his first stint as speaker had not been so brash with the previous president.

Yushchenko has tried to draw the attention of Moroz and Yanukovych to the National Unity Pact signed last month as a condition to Yushchenko supporting Yanukovych for premier. Yushchenko told the briefing last Friday, Sept. 15, that his warning to Yanukovych was due to the latter’s violation of the pact.

Clashes on all fronts

The provisions of the Pact include ensuring the status of Ukrainian as the country’s only official language, Euro-Atlantic integration and the exclusion of the possibility of federalization. The actions of the Cabinet, which is dominated by Regions, and comments by some of the Donetsk-based party’s members, are now casting doubts over the pact.

One senior Regions lawmaker said recently that parliament should elect the president, and not the electorate. To do this, the Constitution needs to be changed, and steps are being taken by the majority to get the necessary MPs from other factions. In fact, Tymoshenko has accused a senior member of the Cabinet of bribing her MPs.

During the parliamentary vote to elect a new head of the State Committee for TV and Radio Broadcasting, 17 of the 244 MPs who voted for Eduard Prutnik were from her bloc. The prospect exists that if the coalition gets the necessary 300 MPs it would change the Constitution, and even impeach Yushchenko.

Moreover, Yushchenko announced last Friday that he had ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate allegedly discriminatory VAT export refunds made illegally in August to three large enterprises, which belong to System Capital Management, majority owned by senior Regions MP and magnate Rinat Akhmetov.

What lies ahead

The next week will be crucial to the country’s political future.

With BYuT promising an announcement imminently on creating an opposition force and two draft laws on the opposition submitted to parliament, the official status of the opposition looks likely to be decided soon. Our Ukraine will have to decide whether to work with the Regions or oppose them.

Speaking about the hold up in the coalition, Our Ukraine spokesperson Tetyana Mokridi told the Post on Sept. 20 that Our Ukraine has been waiting an entire week for Regions to take the initiative. She dismissed fears that the faction could split into anti- and pro-coalition camps.

As to BYuT setting a deadline, Mokridi said, "That was a unilateral decision by them. Our Ukraine's decision will be made on the basis of the talks in a couple of days."

Commenting on unity with Our Ukraine, Taras Postushenko, deputy head of BYuT’s press service said: “We are definitely optimistic, as there are many Our Ukraine deputies who won’t agree to a joint coalition with Regions.”

Postushenko said that in such a case, a so-called inter-factional alliance will be formed.

Yuriy Yakymenko, director of Political and Legal Programs at the Razumkov Center think tank, believes stalemate will continue.

He told the Post that “the situation will drag on, with MPs on all sides waiting to see who gets the upper hand – the president or Regions … However, not only is Regions appointing its own people and interfering in foreign policy, it also wants to give more power to regional councils.

"The president still has a strong lever in the regions through the vertical executive, or right to appoint governors, and so forth, but there are now moves to shift power to regional councils," Yakymenko said.

Source: Kyiv Post