Our Ukraine Flounders For Political Bedfellows

KIEV, Ukraine -- Not only does President Viktor Yushchenko appear incapable of mending the various rifts that increasingly divide his country, but he can’t seem to muster the leadership to hold his Our Ukraine party together.

Volodymyr Horbulin (L), outgoing head of Ukraine's National Security Council, greets his successor Vitaly Haiduk, as President Viktor Yushchenko's head of staff Viktor Balokga watches

The parliament and government have been challenging the president’s authority for months; now, a revolt may be brewing among the ranks of his political followers.

On Oct. 10, Our Ukraine MP Davyd Zhvaniya confirmed that the bloc does not intend to return to coalition talks with the pro-Russian parliamentary majority led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertniy had proclaimed as much as a week earlier, on Oct. 4. Zhvaniya reiterated Bezsmertniy’s threats that Our Ukraine would go into opposition, adding that the party would recall the four ministerial posts that it holds in Yanukovych’s cabinet.

The four posts are Culture Minister Ihor Likhoviy, Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko, Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko and Justice Minister Roman Zvarych. Upping the stakes even further, Our Ukraine additionally appealed to recall two other ministers - foreign and defense – whose jobs are constitutionally guaranteed by the president, rather than the premier.

Both Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko said, however, that they would remain in their posts, citing their constitutional duty as the reason.

For his part, faced with growing dissent in his own backyard, Yushchenko has continued to echo the calls for national unity voiced by Yanukovych’s Donetsk-based Regions party and its leftist allies: the Socialists and Communists.

The Socialists had stood side by side with Yushchenko during the mass popular protests of the country’s Orange Revolution, which took him to power and left his opponent Yanukovych humiliated.

But last summer, Yanukovych formed a majority with the Socialists and Communists, who have been relentless in chipping away at the president’s powers.

In the meantime, the flagship party of the country’s reform movement, Our Ukraine, has wallowed in limbo, neither fully in power or the opposition – represented by the parliament’s fifth faction, the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, who had also once been Yushchenko’s ally.

The 80-member strong Our Ukraine faction is finding itself torn between efforts to drag it back into talks while still not having a clear opposition strategy or partners, thereby providing more instability on the domestic political scene.

The crux of the issue is the so-called Universal document, which Yanukovych signed in August in return for Our Ukraine’s support for his candidacy for the premiership.

The Regions now say the Universal provides the basis for more talks, while Our Ukraine sees it as a statement of joint policy – one that the Regions and its allies continually flaunt.

If the two parties are estranged by disagreement, one wouldn’t be able to tell by listening to their leaders.

Premier Yanukovych said after a meeting Oct. 9 with Yushchenko that talks on creating a broad alliance would go forward. Yanukovych noted the two had agreed “to work on creating a coalition.”

Yanukovych qualified this by saying that “for this we have, first and foremost, the political will of the president and the prime minister. And we believe that our overall aim is to stabilize the political situation. We do not have any other way.”

Speaking on Oct. 11 at the opening of a cabinet session, Yanukovych insisted that he expected Our Ukraine to join the coalition. Alluding to the Universal, he added that “yesterday, I spoke with the president.

An understanding exists that the political will of the head of state and head of cabinet are directed at maintaining stability, which is also a guarantor of economic stability … and that is why we will look for ways to resolve issues as we agreed in August.” According to Yanukovych, “there will be a final decision soon.”

All the while, Yushchenko has been reshuffling his inner team, stocking it with tougher politicians capable of standing up to the strong-arm tactics of the parliamentary majority.

On Oct. 9, Yushchenko appointed wealthy Ukrainian industrialist Vitaliy Hayduk secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. Hayduk’s appointment follows in the wake of another influential supporter from “Orange Donetsk,” Oleksandr Chaliy, who was made a deputy head of the presidential secretariat.

The question remains whether the president plans to fight this battle alone, or with the help of his party.

Speaking to the Post on Oct. 10, Our Ukraine press secretary Tetyana Mokridi confirmed that the faction is in opposition: “On Oct. 4, Our Ukraine said it was going into opposition because the Universal is not being implemented. This decision was taken by the faction, all the parties belonging to the bloc and the council of Our Ukraine … We are talking about systemic opposition.

We proposed to initiate a confederation called European Ukraine, which would unite democratic forces both in parliament and outside it. We are saying that the confederation can be based upon the parties that existed in 2001.”

Mokridi was also critical of the stance of the Regions: “The Party of Regions is not implementing the Universal, is fighting for some presidential powers and, at the same time, says the door for talks remains open. Our Ukraine does not adhere to such a position. Our Ukraine has a clear stance – the Universal should be implemented in its entirety.”

Political analyst Svitlana Kononchuk told the Post that, in her view, indecision is prevalent in Our Ukraine. She described Our Ukraine’s predicament as awkward: “It will be difficult for them to join the opposition BYuT camp. The step to go into opposition is justified in terms of promises made by it to the electorate during the recent election campaign.

However, unable to find a place which would be a platform for the party’s future development, it is neither in government nor opposition. It lost power, and in the eyes of the electorate it is lost too. If it is a responsible party, it should not be to-ing and fro-ing, as it needs to decide on its place in politics and role in Ukraine.”

Asked about the near-term future of Our Ukraine, analyst Mykhaylo Pogrebinskiy said that Our Ukraine will “most likely exist as a faction, but there will be two or three groups and they will vote in different ways.

One part will vote with the Regions, and Yushchenko will appeal to another part, but I cannot yet see a new political project being put forward by Our Ukraine.”

Senior BYuT deputy Andriy Shkil agreed broadly with Pogrebinskiy.

Asked about Our Ukraine’s plans, he said “there will be no fully-fledged move by Our Ukraine into opposition. Part of it will go into opposition and part will go with the coalition. A majority of Our Ukraine MPs, around 45, will go into opposition.

BYuT proposed a way out - the creation of an intra-factional association. The remaining MPs [35] will go with the Regions. There can be no confederation idea like European Ukraine, as Our Ukraine is either in the coalition or in opposition.”

Source: Kyiv Post