Yanukovych, Tymoshenko Working To Join Forces

KIEV, Ukraine -- The once-bitter rivals are close to forming a power-sharing pact that will allow their parties to dominate Ukrainian politics.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych seem to be close to forming a power-sharing agreement that would preserve the strong grip their parties hold over Ukraine’s politics.

After years of bitter rivalry and rhetoric, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Victor Yanukovych are reportedly closing in on a coalition agreement between their two parties.

While the talks remain opaque, deputies from both sides hinted that the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, or BYuT, and Yanukovych’s Party of Regions could come to an agreement as early as the end of this week. Observers say that while the moves are driven by concerns that upcoming presidential elections could loosen their grip on power, they could also bring a measure of stability to the country’s chaotic politics.

BYuT and the Party of Regions have been in intermittent talks for several months, which have intensified in recent days. While details of any agreement remain unclear, deputies from both sides confirmed that they are close to making a decision on forming a new coalition.

Other points reportedly under discussion are a constitutional change that would see the president elected by parliament rather than popular vote, and extending the work of the current parliament until 2014.

Some form of agreement between the two largest parties in parliament appeared close on June 4. BYuT deputy Serhiy Mishchenko said his party would vote on a new coalition on the evening of June 5. Hanna Herman, deputy leader of the Party of Regions parliamentary fraction, said a decision on working with BYuT was close, but that the question of how to elect the president was still under discussion.

Deputies and some political analysts said an agreement could help to stabilize and consolidate Ukrainian politics, given the significant majority that a BYuT-Party of Regions coalition would enjoy, with 331 out of 450 Verhkovna Rada seats. Deputies from both parties have repeatedly called on other political forces to join the new coalition, but so far no-one rushed to join the duo.

In a speech in parliament on June 2, Dmytro Tabachnyk, a lawmaker from the Party of Regions, said a new coalition was necessary to overcome the economic crisis and that it represented a “historic chance” to unite the country. “Only a grand coalition can unite the country and pass the necessary constitutional amendments, without which effective work by the government is impossible and without which it is impossible to tackle the crisis,” he said. The Party of Regions is traditionally strong in the east and south, while BYuT has enjoyed popularity in the west and center.

Despite their rivalry, the two sides have come together recently on key pieces of legislation. They agreed to move up the presidential election from January 2010 to Oct. 25 of this year, but the Constitutional Court nixed the move as unconstitutional.

The two sides also joined in passing a temporary ban on gambling establishments in Ukraine until new regulations are developed. President Victor Yushchenko vetoed the law on June 4 and suggested amendments.

“It’s rational. No one can defeat the crisis alone,” said Victor Nebozhenko, director of the Ukrainian Barometer think tank. He said that if Tymoshenko won the presidential elections, she would be hampered by not having a majority in parliament, as would Yanukovych.

A coalition and agreement on division of power would also find favor in big business circles, experts say, as the country’s richest are keen to preserve stability and avoid expensive election campaigns amid the painful economic crisis.

“Business and industry leaders didn’t need the support of the state before the crisis. But now they need them to solve problems, to create a program to fight the crisis with their agreement,” Nebozhenko said.

But critics warned that an agreement on electing the president in parliament, rather than by popular vote, would be an anti-democratic step. President Victor Yushchenko, who would be left isolated by a new coalition, decried the reported agreement on constitutional change as an “anti-constitutional plot.”

Observers say that Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have been pushed closer together by the recent ratings surge of presidential candidate and former parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk. Tymoshenko’s rating has fallen during the crisis, and Yanukovych has failed to take advantage. At the same time, Yatseniuk’s star has risen to such an extent as to raise concerns that both could lose out to him in the upcoming presidential elections, set for January.

Yatseniuk called the reported deal “African democracy,” Itar-Tass reported.

The camps of Tymoshenko and Yanukovych are also wary of Yatseniuk’s calls for a snap parliament election. They are currently the dominant forces in the legislature but could lose this grip in a fresh parliamentary election.

Ilko Kucheriv, director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and a strong NATO membership advocate, said Tymoshenko and Yanukovych are more interested in a distribution of power than fighting the crisis. “It’s more like a putsch by two leaders who want to grab power.”

He added that it couldn’t bring long-term stability, as it would leave the decision-making in the hands of a few people, which people at home, and leaders abroad, would find difficult to accept.

“Big business doesn’t want elections,” Kucheriv said. “But it wants an agreement with the European Union and the West. This decision would act against those interests, as the West could react very negatively.”

Many remain surprised at the possible joining of such bitter enemies, who only five years ago were on the opposite sides of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Tymoshenko then stood with the crowds in overturning a rigged presidential election that declared then-Prime Minister Yanukovych the winner. A rerun of the Yushchenko-Yanukovch showdown on Dec. 26, 2004, led to Yushchenko’s election victory. He took power in January 2005.

Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have sniped at each other repeatedly over the years. Here’s just a sample of their incendiary rhetoric from one day alone – Oct. 17, 2008.

Tymoshenko, referring to Yanukovych: “Thank God, the mafia is in the opposition today. Spending money to return the mafia to power [through a new election] is senseless.”

And Yanukovych on Tymoshenko: “They [the Orange Revolution gang] have to do their usual things. ... Most of them could be actors, someone could become a model in various modeling houses, and so on. We have to assist them in that. They are false democrats, who can do nothing but blather.”

Since Yushchenko took presidency, the trio of Yushchenko, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko has been involved in a series of coalitions and political deals that have drawn criticism from the side left out.

Speaking of the coalition between Yushchenko and Yanukovych in May 2007, Tymoshenko ironically told a joke. “A hare and a squirrel fell in love and created a family. They began to live together, to make love but they had no children. So they went to a wise owl and asked: ‘What can we do? We, a squirrel and a hare, created a family but we have no children. Why is that? Is it because we are so different – we are a squirrel and a hare?’ The owl looked and said, ‘No! It is because you are boys,’” she said.

Perhaps the coming weeks will show if the new pairing can have more success.

Source: Kyiv Post