03/09/2007 - Analysis
"The coalition in power has surpassed the responsibilities of its mandate, trying to monopolise political power. It did not hesitate in disregarding the Constitution and deliberately ignored the democratic wishes expressed by the Ukrainian people. (...) This situation could not have continued. It is impossible to build a powerful democratic society if several of its most important members refuse to follow the rules and accept what the people want. This is why I had no choice but to dissolve Parliament and convene elections," declared Viktor Yushenko, President of the Republic on 2nd April this year. The same day he dissolved the Verkhovna Rada, the single Chamber in Parliament.
The reason was that a few days previously 11 members from his party, Our Ukraine, quit and went over to join the government majority (one of them Anatoliy Kinakh, will be appointed Economy Minister). Viktor Yushenko believes that moving from one party to another like this is unconstitutional. The constitutional reform adopted on 8th December 2004 led to the loss of MPs' right to change parliamentary group during their term in office. In addition to this the President of the Republic suspects that his Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (Regions Party) is doing everything he can for his parliamentary group to hold 300 seats. This would be a 2/3 majority in the Supreme Council, the necessary threshold to avoid presidential vetoes, to be able to modify the Constitution and even proceed to the impeachment of the President of the Republic.
The political system which is both presidential and parliamentary makes any kind of cohabitation difficult. The Viktor Yanukovich's (Viktor Yushenko's rival in the presidential election of November-December 2004) Regions Party's victory in the general elections on 26th March 2006 forced the President of the Republic to appoint Yanukovich Prime Minister on 4th August 2006 after the latter convinced the Socialist and Communist Parties to ally themselves with his movement.
On 4th April two days after the dissolution of Parliament 53 MPs referred the matter to the Constitutional Court in protest against the presidential ukase. But Viktor Yushenko then dismissed several judges from the Court including the Prosecutor General, Sviatoslav Piskoune, saying that he could not occupy his post as prosecutor and be an MP at the same time. The Prosecutor General will however be reappointed to his post by the regional court of Kiev.
The dissolution of Parliament drove the Ukraine into a serious political crisis for several weeks. Arguments and demonstrations followed suite, several clashes occurred between the Prime Minister's supporters and those of the President. There were even fights between the Special Forces who answer to the Interior Minister, Vassyl Tsouchko, and those who protect public figures who answer to the Head of State. By means of a decree, Viktor Yushenko placed the Interior Minister's 32,000 troops under his control, a decision believed unconstitutional by Viktor Yanukovich who then ordered the deployment of military support troops in Kiev to stand and block all entrances to the capital.
For several weeks each of the political leaders tried to pressurise the other. "But there was a real danger of fighting that could have been uncontrollable. Everyone understood that it was impossible to use force and count on his own victory. On the contrary there was a chance that everything would be lost. This forced them to come to an agreement," analyses Andriy Ermolayev at the research centre Sofial in Kiev. "People understood this time that it was not just their battle but simply a power struggle between politicians," stressed Evgueni Zolotariov, a political analyst and member of Pora (meaning "It is time" in Ukrainian), a spearhead movement in the Orange Revolution which has now become a political party.
Before the Constitutional Court had time to take a decision about the dissolution of parliament on 2nd April the two sides came to an agreement on 27th May. On 5th June early general elections were set for 30th September.
"The Ukraine has emerged strengthened from this crisis. We found a democratic path towards each other" declared Viktor Yushenko. "I commend the leaders of the Ukraine whether they belong to the government or the opposition after proving their democratic commitment. Everybody is a winner in this negotiated compromise. It is now time for everyone in the Ukraine to focus on the launch of vital reform. The European Union is keen on this partnership the quality of which depends on Ukrainian democracy and its reforms," stressed High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana.
One survey undertaken by the Kiev International Institute of Sociolology revealed that 80% of Ukrainians support these early general elections.
The Political System
Parliament comprises one chamber only called the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council). It has 450 members elected by proportional representation for a four-year period. The minimum threshold for a political party to sit in Parliament is 3% of the votes cast.
The constitutional reform that was adopted on 8th December 2004 and which came into force on 1st January 2006 strengthens the powers of Parliament by transferring a share of the President's powers over to the Supreme Council. The latter now appoints the Prime Minister as well as most of the members of government except however for the Foreign and Defence Ministers, sectors which remain under the control of the President of the Republic. Finally this institutional reform removes Members of Parliament's right to change the parliamentary group whilst it is in office.
Issues at Stake in the General Elections
Two groups oppose each other in the political and the economic arena. One, led by the President of the Republic Viktor Yushenko, would like to see the Ukraine turn to the West and draw closer to the European Union; the other led by the present Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich rallies the major industries, notably the steel industry in the East that requires vital energy sources, mainly gas, provided by Russia.
With the elections of 30th September on the horizon the Head of State's party Our Ukraine forged an alliance with 9 other political parties in the bloc called Our Ukraine-Self Defence. Self-Defence (Samoobrona) was formed by former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, to remotivate those who had been disappointed by the Orange Revolution. Apart from Our Ukraine and Self Defence, the bloc comprises the People's Movement, the Popular Party led by Yuri Kostenko, the Republican Party Sobor, the Christian Democrat Union, the European Popular Party, Pora, the Mother Country Defenders Party and the Nationalist Congress. The campaign director, Viktor Baloga is head of the Presidential secretariat.
On 28th August last the Central Electoral Commission refused to incorporate Pora into the Our Ukraine-Self Defence Bloc. The party led by Yaroslav Godounok said that the party would appeal against this decision.
The Regions Party, the favourite in the polls, is working to show that it has no responsibility whatsoever in the crisis that the Ukraine suffered over the last few months. "Neither the Regions Party nor the Prime Minister are at the root of the crisis. This is a result of the will to convene general elections at any cost. I would say that this comes from the opposition, primarily from the Yulia Timochenko Bloc and Yulia Timochenko herself (former Prime Minister and mastermind of the Orange Revolution) with the support of the President of the Republic," repeats Viktor Yanukovich. In March, Yulia Timochenko said, "It is the President's duty to dissolve parliament. The alternative is simple; either he does nothing and accepts the threats made to our independence and our Euro-Atlantic orientation or he dissolves parliament." The former Prime Minister hopes to gain much from these general elections in which she would like to win through as an alternative both in place of Viktor Yushenko and Viktor Yanukovich.
As the election approaches, the Regions Party seems divided. Within the party three trends oppose one another: one led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, another led by the Head of Government Viktor Yanukovich and finally the group led by industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, owner of SCM Holdings who comes from the region of Donbass (East of the Ukraine).
In July the Industrialist and Entrepreneurs Party decided to join the Regions Party with the elections of 30th September in view. The party in power since 2006 also signed a co-operation agreement with Russia.
During the electoral campaign the Regions Party will have to explain why the previous promises it made have still not been kept; these include the adoption of Russian as a second official language, dual Russian/Ukrainian nationality, the enhancement of the status of Russian speakers from the Crimea and the organisation of a referendum on the country joining NATO. Viktor Yanukovich is against this. The Prime Minister is however in support of the country drawing closer to the European Union. In fact he qualified the recent strengthening of the partnership and co-operation agreement between the Ukraine and Brussels as "an incredibly important step."
The Ukrainians do however seem slightly tired of these political quarrels and above all are interested in improving their living standards and the growth of the economy. A survey undertaken in July last by the Ukrainian Sociology Service and the Democratic Initiative Fund revealed that 55% of them hope that economic issues will form the core of the electoral campaign. 48.3% would like the campaign to focus on unemployment, 40.6% on corruption and 21% on the taxation system. However only 7.5% believe that the country's accession to the EU is a major issue and only 4.4% believe the same about NATO.
"To date the leaders of the Orange Revolution have been unable or have not known how to change the political culture of this country. By playing the same off-stage games as the previous government led by President Leonid Koutchma (1994-2004) they rapidly lost the population's support which now brings politicians from all sides into conflict," maintains Ivan Presniakov from the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kiev. "I cannot see that these elections will succeed in putting an end to the arguments simply because the results will probably be very similar to those produced during the elections on 26th March 2006," stresses Ivan Lozowy, chairman of the Institute for Statehood and Democracy in Kiev.
Although many analysts maintain that the firm stance adopted by the President of the Republic Viktor Yushenko over the last few months should strengthen his party during the elections it remains that his rival's party leads the polls just one month before the event itself.
According to a poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology the Ukrainian Sociology Service and the Socis Centre, 34.9% of voters will choose the Regions Party, 17.9% Our Ukraine-Self-Defence, 17.1% the Yulia Timochenko Bloc, 4.4% the Communist Party of the Ukraine led by Petro Simonenko, 2.8% the Litvine Bloc and 2.5% the Natalia Vitrenko Bloc. The latter two blocs will not achieve the vital 3% threshold to sit in Parliament.
Another poll reveals that 32.9% of Ukrainians would like Viktor Yanukovich to maintain his position as Prime Minister. 21% would like Yulia Timochenko to succeed him. Yuri Lutsenko would win 4.8% of the vote.
Reminder of the general election results in the Ukraine on 26th March 2006
Participation rate : 70%
Source: Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission