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18 Sep, 2008 03:04

Ukraine's Parliament Speaker resigns amid crisis

The speaker of Ukraine's parliament, the Rada, has resigned a day after he declared the collapse of the governing Orange coalition.

The government, which wrested power from pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich in the 2004 Orange Revolution, was officially announced dissolved in Parliament on Tuesday by Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk.

On Saturday, a ten-day deadline to restore the coalition between former close allies Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko ran out.

Analysts say Yatseniuk's resignation won’t affect the Rada's efforts at forming a new coalition. MPs now have 30 days to put together a new government before Viktor Yushchenko – the Ukranian president – could call early elections.

Some commentators suggest that if the Rada’s new speaker is selected from the Party of Regions, it would be a clear sign that a coalition between unlikely allies Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich will be formed. Together, their parties would have a constitutional majority in the Rada and could abolish the presidency.

An agreement drafted by Timoshenko and Yushchenko a few years ago says that should the speaker stand down, the Prime Minister – and the government – must resign as well. Timoshenko has already made it clear that is not intending to pursue that course of action.

Ukraine in crisis: a brief chronology

November 22 2004: Tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters demonstrate in Kiev after election results show PM Viktor Yanukovich won the second round of presidential elections. The colour orange becomes the symbol of revolution.

December 28 2004: The Supreme Court declares previous election results invalid, a new round is ordered. Yushchenko celebrates victory with 51.99% of the vote. Yanukovich resigns as PM on New Year's Eve.

January 23 2005: Yushchenko is officially sworn in as president and approves Yulia Timoshenko as PM days later.

September 8 2005: Timoshenko's cabinet dismissed after two high-standing officials resign. Yury Yekhanurov, a great supporter of the president, takes her place.

January 10 2006: A gas deal with Russia causes a sharp increase in the cost of importing energy. Parliament votes to sack the government.

March 26: Yanukovich's Regions Party comes first in the new parliamentary elections. Timoshenko's bloc is a close second.

June 15: After 80 days of talks, Yushchenko's allies fail to form a coalition with the opposition to produce a government.

July 18: New coalition, made up of Yushchenko's rivals, proposes Yanukovich as PM. He is approved a few days later, under the condition that he will not undermine pro-Western policies.

January 12 2007: The governing coalition passes a law to reduce presidential privileges, undermining Yushchenko's authority.

March 13: The opposition walks out of parliament, demanding that Ukraine remains pro-Western.

April: Yushchenko issues a decree to dissolve parliament.

May 27: New elections date set on the 30th of September.

October 15: The “Orange” parties win the elections by a tiny margin, but fail to gain a majority in parliament.

December 18: Timoshenko voted in as PM, winning the minimum number of votes needed to secure it.

February 6 2008: Yanukovich's opposition party announces a blockade of parliament after fist fights and protests over NATO membership.

June 20: Ukrainian parliament deputy Yury Bout resigns together with a colleague, causing the governing coalition's narrow majority to be overturned.

July 11: The opposition calls a no-confidence vote against Timoshenko, but she prevails.

August 18: Yushchenko's deputy chief of staff accuses Timoshenko of high treason because of her refusal to support Georgia in the Caucasus conflict.

September 3: Yushchenko threatens to call a pre-term election because the governing coalition has collapsed.

September 16: Coalition is officially dissolved. Parliamentarians now have 30 days to form a new coalition and cabinet before new elections are called.

What next? Expert opinions

“A state of political crisis is a permanent thing in Ukraine,” says Oles Doniy, a member of the former governing coalition. “Both the public and the politicians are so used to it, that they take it with a mixture of weariness and composure”.

Doniy thinks the political situation in Ukraine can follow three courses, one of which, it seems, is merely theoretical. The governing coalition that has just collapsed could, potentially, be reformed. According to some analysts, this is the only safe course of action, as it will create a sturdy, unified government. But in the light of heated conversations and mutual accusations, it seems highly unlikely that Yushchenko's “Our Ukraine” and “Yulia Timoshenko's Bloc” will see eye to eye again.

The remaining two options are the formation of a new coalition within the next 30 days, or the calling of early elections. Most senior political figures in Ukraine at the moment claim they are fully prepared for the second option.

Plan A: New coalition

Most experts consider the formation of a new ruling coalition – comprised of Timoshenko's Bloc and Yanukovich's Party of Regions – a viable, yet unlikely and dangerous course of action. From the beginning of September, the Party of Regions has been voting mostly in line with Timoshenko's policies, indicating that a consensus of sorts has already emerged.

However, according to Aleksey Garan – the head advisor from the Kievo-Mogiliansky institute of political analysis – a coalition between Timoshenko's Block and the Party of Regions is highly unlikely, as it would be a huge blow to Timoshenko's image. An agreement between parties that are so radically opposed would be detrimental to the variety of opinions represented in the Ukrainian parliament and challenge both parties' credibility.

The potential for a coalition with either the Communist Party or Litvin's Bloc is even more unlikely. The former would fail to find a common language with Timoshenko's Bloc whilst the latter is set on winning the potential elections itself.

Plan B: Early elections

Yulia Timoshenko's Bloc favours this course of action as, according to recent polls, they have the potential to win in the elections, albeit by a narrow margin. According to the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, 24.1% of Ukrainians are prepared to vote for Timoshenko, as opposed to Yanukovich's 23.3%. Nevertheless, statistics show that the vote would again be highly polarised which would destabilise the potential government.

To have a constitutional majority, a new coalition would undoubtedly have to be formed. It would again be made up of ideologically-differing parties, which has been the breaking point for the Ukrainian parliament's functionality in the last four years.

Another major point of concern is the electorate itself. The number of voters in elections has been on a steady decrease in the last few years since most people respond to the ever-lasting political crisis with growing apathy. According to political writer Vadim Karasev, the electorate is so tired, that only bribes or the use of force could potentially make it vote at the moment.