On September 16 Ukrainian parliament speaker Arseny Yatsenyuk pronounced the ruling coalition of President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) officially dead. If no new coalition emerges within 30 days, Yushchenko will be entitled to disband parliament and call a new election.
Initially, there were hopes that NUNS would reverse its September 2 decision to quit the coalition, which was prompted by the BYT’s refusal to back Yushchenko’s pro-Georgian stance and by the passage of several laws weakening the presidency (see EDM, September 8). NUNS had 10 days to return, but it did not, as that would have meant political capitulation.
From the very beginning NUNS gave the BYT three conditions for restoring the coalition: support of a parliamentary resolution condemning Russia’s behavior in Georgia; unambiguous rejection of Russia’s use of its Black Sea Fleet (BSF) stationed in Ukraine’s Sevastopol against Georgia; and support for Yushchenko’s veto of the laws weakening the presidency, which were passed by an alliance of the BYT and the Party of Regions (PRU) in parliament from September 2 to 4.
At a press conference on September 8 Tymoshenko rejected NUNS’s conditions as an “ultimatum.” She accused Yushchenko of conspiring to incite a conflict with Russia over the BSF in an attempt to drum up support for Yushchenko’s re-election bid in western regions, which are traditionally wary of Russia. Tymoshenko pledged support for Georgia’s territorial integrity, but she made it clear that she saw no need for strong statements against Russia. She also refused to back Yushchenko’s vetoes.
Tymoshenko said that she was against an early election, so “reformatting the coalition is the only option left.” Tymoshenko hinted that there would be a new coalition with the PRU, as that should make it possible to “have at least 350 votes to change the constitution,” apparently in order to further weaken the presidency (UT1, September 8). Actually, 300 votes should suffice to amend the constitution in the 450-seat legislature, but only PRU and BYT combined can control more than 350 seats.
Yushchenko’s team responded by accusing Tymoshenko of conspiring with the Kremlin. “After the events in Georgia, where Russia tried to break the political elite by force, the Kremlin resorted to…manipulating Ukrainian politicians,” said Andry Kyslynsky, the deputy head of Yushchenko’s secretariat. He said that a planned election of the leader of the pro-Moscow PRU, Viktor Yanukovych, would be part of this pro-Moscow scenario (Ukrainska Pravda, September 8). Speaking at a press conference several days later, Yushchenko also said that the plan “was imported,” hinting at Russian interference (Channel 5, September 12).
Ihor Kril, the leader of the pro-Yushchenko United Center party, provided more details of the alleged “pro-Kremlin” plan. He suggested that Tymoshenko’s team would invite the PRU and the Communists to form a new government without NUNS, whereby “the Communists will control humanitarian matters and agriculture, the PRU will be given [control over] industry and foreign policy, and the BYT will control the economy” (Ukrainska Pravda, September 8).
Yanukovych confirmed in a newspaper article that he would prefer a “temporary” coalition with the BYT to become permanent. Like Tymoshenko, he rejected the option of a snap parliamentary election. Yanukovych, like Tymoshenko, accused Yushchenko’s team of provoking confrontation with Russia (Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine, September 12).
The centrist Bloc of Volodymyr Lytvyn, which has the smallest caucus in parliament, and those among the BYT deputies who are especially skeptical of an alliance with the PRU, have been discussing a Lytvyn Bloc–BYT–NUNS coalition as an alternative to a PRU-BYT coalition. People’s Self-Defense (NS), the junior partner of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party (NU) in NUNS, said that they were ready for such a coalition. Kyslynsky signaled that Yushchenko may back this option. At the same time, Kyslynsky said there was little probability of such a trilateral coalition being formed, because Tymoshenko would not support it (Ukrainska Pravda, September 16).
The most recent polls indicated that the same major parties would be represented in parliament if no new coalition emerges and Yushchenko calls an early election. These are the BYT, the PRU, the NU, the Communists, and Lytvyn’s Bloc. The main questions are who will come first and how Yushchenko’s party, whose popularity has dropped since the 2007 election, will perform.
A poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) predicted that the BYT and PRU would run neck and neck, with 24.1 percent and 23.3 percent of the popular vote, respectively. A poll by the National Institute for Strategic Studies (NISD) suggested that PRU would win with 20.2 percent, trailed by the BYT with 17.3 percent. The KMIS poll showed that the NU would score just 3.8 percent, but the NISD, which is linked to the presidential office, predicted a more optimistic 7.9 percent for it (Zerkalo Nedeli, September 13, for KMIS; Ukrainska Pravda, September 16, for NISD). The result of the NU, with or without the NS, should be below the 14.15 percent that it won in 2007, so it cannot hope for the role of senior partner in any possible coalition.