Ukraine: Pro-Presidential Bloc Goes Into Opposition Amid Executive Standoff

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Our Ukraine has announced that it is switching to the opposition and pulling its ministers out of the government.

Roman Bezsmertny

Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertnyy said in the Verkhovna Rada on October 17 that his bloc's decision to go into opposition was caused by its disagreement with policies pursued by the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, which is often referred to as an "anticrisis coalition."

"In the past two months we witnessed a break in Ukraine's domestic and foreign course that was supported by the Ukrainian people during the election of President Viktor Yushchenko. Integration with the World Trade Organization is being ruined, programs of cooperation between Ukraine and the EU have actually been halted," Bezsmertnyy said.

Bezsmertnyy called on opposition parties, both within and outside the Verkhovna Rada, to set up a "confederation" to support the pro-European course championed by President Yushchenko.

"Regarding our proposals in today's situation, we call on opposition forces in parliament and outside parliament to form a European Ukraine [opposition alliance] as a confederation, to work out an action plan that would be aimed at creating an alternative to the actions of the anticrisis coalition and the current government," Bezsmertnyy said.

Bezsmertnyy did not say a single word about Our Ukraine's relations with the BYuT, its former ally in the 2004 Orange Revolution. Both blocs split in September 2005 because of their failure to run a coalition government.And they suffered an even worse failure while trying to form a new coalition after the March 2006 parliamentary elections.

The BYuT announced the creation of an "interfactional" opposition association in the Verkhovna Rada last month and made former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko its leader. So far Tymoshenko has managed to attract only two defectors from the Socialist Party to this opposition alliance.

Meanwhile, BYuT lawmaker Anatoliy Semynoha told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that he and his colleagues will readily welcome Our Ukraine lawmakers among their ranks.

"Our position is comprehensible. We formed an interfactional opposition union, which has been joined by some Socialists. We are inviting our Ukraine as well. I think that it is necessary for them to join [this union] and start working today without inventing a bicycle [anew]," Semynoha said.

However, judging by Bezsmertnyy's announcement on October 17, Our Ukraine is set to reformat the configuration of opposition groups in Ukraine according to its own taste rather than join the Tymoshenko-led group.

Our Ukraine lawmaker Vyacheslav Koval told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that his party has not yet made a final decision on how to proceed in the opposition.

"There has been no decision on whether to create a confederation or not. But perhaps [such a confederation] is a way for attracting parties outside parliament and creating a powerful opposition. However, this needs to be discussed," Koval said.

But the chances that Our Ukraine might get together with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc once again, let alone recognize Tymoshenko's leading role in the opposition, are very slim.

Where do these opposition maneuvers leave President Yushchenko?

Yushchenko said on October 18 that the five ministers delegated to Yanukovych'a cabinet by Our Ukraine should step down in order to be consistent with the position of their bloc. They reportedly submitted their resignations to the Verkhovna Rada on October 19.

If Prime Minister Yanukovych replaces these ministers with people from his party, President Yushchenko will lose a considerable leverage tool in the government. In such a case there will be only two pro-Yushchenko ministers in the cabinet -- Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, who were appointed directly by the president.

But Yanukovych may decide against such a solution. There have already been proposals from the Party of Regions to give Yushchenko the right to fill these five ministerial posts with "non-party professionals."

This seems to be a coldly calculated gesture of goodwill toward the president whose powers have been significantly trimmed in favor of the legislature and the prime minister by a constitutional reform enforced in January.

The anticrisis coalition falls 60 votes short of the 300 votes required to override presidential veto over legislation. Therefore, by giving Yushchenko the right to nominate more ministers to the cabinet, Yanukovych may want the president to share responsibility for the cabinet's decisions, even despite the withdrawal of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine from it.

In other respects, however, the failure of the Orange Revolution camp to form a ruling coalition after the March 2006 legislative elections could spell big trouble for President Yushchenko. Prime Minister Yanukovych is firmly set to take away as much prerogatives from the president as constitutional loopholes will allow him.

Yanukovych has recently refused to implement several presidential decrees, arguing that they were not cosigned by him, as stipulated by the constitution.

Yanukovych is also questioning in the Constitutional Court Yushchenko's right to appoint regional governors without coordination with the government.

In addition, pro-Yanukovych regional councilors reportedly passed no-confidence motions in more than 70 oblast or district administration heads. Yanukovych is demanding their dismissal, arguing that under the constitution a no-confidence vote supported by two-thirds of lawmakers is sufficient to oblige the president to sack the head of a district or oblast administration.

Thus, having taken a firm grip on the central government, Yanukovych now appears to be determined to dismantle the network of presidential loyalists in the provinces.

May such a turn of events push Our Ukraine and the BYuT toward reassessing their stance toward each other? BYuT lawmaker Semynoha believes that it may.

"Regarding the opposition and its future, I am convinced that there is no other scenario for Our Ukraine than actually joining the united opposition in the Verkhovna Rada and jointly building democracy in our state," Semynoha said. "If they fail to do it today, they will do it later. Time, voters, and necessity in our situation will simply force them to do it."

But Ukrainian voters will have the chance to discipline their politicians no earlier than in 2009 and 2011, when the country will hold presidential and parliamentary votes, respectively.

Therefore, in the short term, Ukraine will most likely witness confrontation not only between the government and the opposition represented by the BYuT and Our Ukraine, but also between the opposition blocs themselves.

Source: Radio Free Europe