Ukrainian wrangle: foes eye alliance against president

Yulia Tymoshenko (L) and Viktor Yushchenko (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Rumors are rife in Ukraine over a possible radical change of the political system in the country. Two rival parties in the parliament in the parliament may unite to change the constitution.

A possible coalition between Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc and the Party of the Regions would have an overwhelming majority in the Supreme Rada.

If formed, the coalition will be strong enough to push a constitutional reform, which involves electing a president by indirect vote in parliament.

“It’s a plot, because the scheme of the agreement is non-transparent, closed. The talks happen at night somewhere in the woods. All this gives the feeling of some kind of a plot. And at some point people’s rights will be violated: freedom of speech, freedom of opinion. If there is a good intention in it, why all this Byzantine style?”

Dmitry Vydrin, politics expert
(Source: UNIAN news agency).

“What Ukraine needs is not populism, but reforms, and that is the argument in favor of having the president elected by the parliament,” Anna German, deputy head of the Party of Regions stated at a briefing at the parliament building. “The nationwide presidential election is yet another challenge, which risks dividing the nation.”

The Party of Regions has called other factions to join the coalition.

“Only a broad coalition can unite the country and make necessary changes to the constitution,” Dmitry Tabachnik from the Party of Regions said.

On Tuesday morning, Ukrainian media reported Yushchenko was going to step down in order not to allow the coalition to form. If he did resign, a new presidential election would have to be held ahead of schedule, which would leave his political adversaries with no time to change the constitution.

The claims have been backed by the possible alliance members.

“The President’s office has prepared two decrees – one about an early presidential election and another about an early parliamentarian election. As soon as the coalition is formed, they will be published on the President’s official web site,” Sergey Mishchenko, a deputy from Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc, told journalists.

“If the Ukrainian president is to be elected by the parliament, we’ll get a shadow Politburo instead of the personal accountability of the president to the voters. These people are not known to the general public, and it means they won’t be personally responsible. They’ll make the country hostage to their political ambitions and business interests.”

Vadim Karasyov, political expert
(Source: UNIAN news agency)

The presidential office denounced the reports, and accused Timoshenko and Yanukovich of plotting a “shadow reform” and “usurpation of power”.

“The President welcomes consolidation of any political forces as long as they are aimed at fighting the crisis. But creation of new coalitions must be done openly and in accordance with the law,” said presidential spokesperson Irina Vannikova.

The issue of a ruling coalition in Ukraine’s parliament is a tricky one. After the former allies in the Orange Coalition, Timosenko and Yushchenko, parted ways over political differences, the pro-presidential faction in the parliament split in two.

Technically all the deputies are still members of the ruling coalition, which makes the parliament legally capable, but in fact Timoshenko’s Bloc is having trouble getting a majority vote on many issues and has to seek temporary alliance with factions not represented in the coalition. Yanukovich’s Party of Regions is the biggest parliamentary faction, and his support would be enough to overcome a presidential veto.

The head of Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc, Ivan Kirilenko – who only on Monday denied plans to form a coalition with the Party of Regions – assured the Rada’s deputies:

“Calm down! We do not mean usurpation; we just want bring order to the country through joint effort of political forces and government institutions.”

“How efficient a new political structure might be in achieving growth of economy is hard to tell. Of course, this political force can be used to set serious tasks for the economy and society, but it can also be used to give profit to oligarchic financial forces, which set agendas for governments and political parties. What will prevail? It’s hard to tell.”

Vladimir Lanovsky, economist
(Source: UNIAN news agency)

The current talk of a coalition between two long-lasting opponents, Timoshenko and Yanukovich, is far from being unprecedented. On several occasions they have joined their forces in the parliament against their common foe Yushchenko. However, previous alliances between them have not been lasting.

Yushchenko, Timoshenko and Yanukovich are all taking part in the presidential campaign currently unfolding in the country. The election is scheduled to take place in late 2009 or early 2010.

A recent opinion poll by the “Public Opinion – Ukraine” foundation suggests that Yanokovich will win the election with 26.6% approval rating. Timoshenko is second in line with 16.2% of voters supporting her, shortly followed by a relatively new man in Ukraine’s politics Arseny Yatsenyuk. The former parliamentary speaker would win 12.8% of the votes if the election was held now. The current head of the state Yushchenko is at a record low with less than 2% approval.