Another Episode Of Political Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the last few weeks Ukraine has experienced an episode of political reform as great and dramatic as anything seen during the Orange Revolution.

Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada or Parliament

The Verkhovna Rada voted overwhelmingly to further emasculate the beleaguered President Viktor Yushchenko, reducing the presidency to little more than a symbolic head of state well above the party political fray.

The Cabinet evicted Yushchenko’s pro-Western foreign minister, Borys Tarasyuk, and even proposed a law that would strip the presidency of any influence over foreign policy.

Perhaps not unrelated, some facts emerged of a long-term energy agreement, in which Ukraine would cede partial control over its gas transport system to Russia in exchange for participation in oil and gas extraction in Russia.

The failure of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc to either effectively govern with the ruling Anti-crisis Coalition or accede to Yulia Tymoshenko’s opposition Byut bloc’s call to dissolve parliament and stage new elections has allowed the Party of Regions to extend its grip over the country’s notoriously fragmented state bureaucracy.

On the face of it, the wrangling over the Constitution, the apparently contradictory alliances between the political parties and the confusion over who speaks for Ukraine internationally, has plunged the country into yet another episode of political crisis.

The former Socialist interior minister in the Orange Revolution interregnum, Yuriy Lutsenko, has toured the country to promote his new ‘People’s Self-defense Movement,’ warning that the democratic gains won in the Orange Revolution are under threat.

However, whilst some of the political maneuvering has been clumsy and the political parties, at last mindful of the need to maintain popular support, have struck contradictory positions, Ukraine has experienced a remarkable consolidation of its state machine and its political system.

The democratically elected government has extended its control over the state bureaucracy to facilitate clear and effective government.

Equally, an official opposition has begun to be institutionalized to scrutinize government. These developments will significantly strengthen the capacity of the state, a necessary precondition for further political and economic development.

This has occurred because, with the exception of parts of President Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, the country’s political and economic powerbrokers, of whatever political hue, business group and region, have finally learned the lesson of the Orange Revolution: Razom nas bahato, nas ne podolaty (Together we are many, we cannot be defeated).

They have concluded that the profound divisions that opened up during the Orange Revolution weakened them all and that they are individually and collectively stronger in the worlds of politics and business, united around a modus operandi for political and economic rivalry.

Their consent to abide by common rules stands to enhance the country’s bargaining power with its neighbors to both the east and the west.

It is no surprise that Regions has driven the process of consolidation.

You only have to drive a few kilometers south from Donetsk, the home of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, to the village of Kyrsha, aka, the ‘widows’ village,’ with its opulent detached houses protected by prison-sized walls and metal gates to match, to be reminded of the consequences of unfettered rivalry.

Yanukovych and the commercial figures behind Regions have all learned over the last 10 years that they mutually benefit when there is a balance of power and a modus operandi amongst the Donbas’s leading political and economic actors.

The Donetsk-based business groups, such as SCM and ISD, having outgrown the region, require effective national government and the prospect of stable transfers of political power from party to party to further develop as successful international companies

Since last year’s parliamentary elections, Regions has been practically groping around to identify a reliable partner to establish a new modus operandi on the national scale.

Our Ukraine, Regions’ desired partner, was hampered by its poor performance in the parliamentary elections and its apparent inability to act in a concerted manner.

Regions were forced to turn, first, to the ideologically antagonistic Socialists and Communists and then to reach an historic compromise with their bete noire, Tymoshenko.

The mutual antipathy dates back to Tymoshenko’s association with the Dnipropetrovsk ‘clan’ that waged war (entrepreneurial and violent) with the Donetsk ‘clan’ in the mid-1990s over the lucrative supply of gas in the Donbass.

Hostilities, this time political, resumed when Tymoshenko, then deputy prime minister in Yushschenko’s government, attempted to structurally reform the energy sector, culminating in her sacking and a string of criminal investigations into corruption allegations.

Despite this history, Tymoshenko has realized that Regions are in the box seat and that Yushchenko has no intention of dissolving parliament and calling fresh elections.

Byut and its financial backers have had little choice but to abandon their long-held opposition to the constitutional reform passed in late 2004 and embrace a parliamentary system in return for securing the role of official opposition.

Byut supported Regions’ law to transfer the power to appoint the prime minister from the president to parliament and the power to appoint the foreign and defense ministers from the president to the prime minister.

In return, Regions supported the election of Mykola Tomenko, a former deputy prime minister in Tymoshenko’s government, as second deputy parliamentary speaker and a bill that disqualifies local and regional council representatives who vote against their party line.

The latter will serve to shore-up Byut, whose caucuses in several councils across the country have recently crumbled.

More importantly, once the ‘Law on the opposition’ is passed, Byut will be granted the right to state funding, appoint a shadow cabinet and the heads of several key parliamentary committees, establish independent commissions of enquiry, and guaranteed access to television and radio.

Out of this historic compromise, a consolidated state machine and a parliamentary political system based on electoral competition between two centralized political parties is emerging.

However, the nature and extent of any further political reform will depend on how Regions’ and Byut’s popularity in the country develops over the coming months.

Source: Kyiv Post