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The Ukrainian Stalemate
03/04/07
Vadim Dubnov, independent commentator, for RIA Novosti


“President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a resolution dissolving parliament,” according to rumors circulating in Kiev in the last week of March. When the resolution really was announced, however, everyone engaged in the current Ukrainian confrontation were shocked.
No political force bases its plans on the dissolution of parliament, and none is entirely optimistic about it. Yulia Tymoshenko is the only exception, even though, to all appearances, the president’s move caught her unawares.
As for the rumors, they could have logically been expected much earlier, when parliament passed its Cabinet bill with the intention of drastically limiting the president’s powers. The triumphant Orange Revolution hero was to become a token figure, and not merely because the revolutionary achievements of 2004 would be reversed. In fact, a true reversal is out of the question—a new leader is not what any revolution is about. The new situation and new rules of the game ushered in by the revolution are what really matters.
The Orange Revolution removed the role of top moderator from the Ukrainian political landscape—a person present in almost all states that came into being with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Not ideology but business interests had split the Ukrainian elite even before the revolution. Now, the elite was adapting to new rules in a situation of permanent crisis, whose every stage showed that the actors on the political stage were completely interchangeable.
Here lies a clear difference between Kiev in 2007 and Moscow in 1993, with its seemingly similar confrontation. When Socialist leader Alexander Moroz and Anatoly Kinakh, president of the Ukrainian League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, went over to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s team they might have looked like traitors. As things really were, they merely accepted the only possible form of political contention left to them.
The basic rules of the game remained abstruse and out of use for a long time. Political groups had the chance to smash their opponents during Leonid Kuchma’s presidency. Now, none can attain a decisive victory. Orange revolutionaries attempted last year to settle all their problems after the parliamentary poll using their usual method—in one fell swoop, and keeping the opposition out of it. The outcome was just the opposite of what they expected. The opposition took hold of the legislative and executive powers.
As we know today, it repeated the Orange bungle and so could not reap what it had sown. The ruling coalition did not intend to—and could not, for that matter—restore the previous arrangement of forces once the Cabinet bill had been passed.
First, it had developed a taste for political monopoly, and would not be content with a simple parliamentary majority now that it had an opportunity to gain a qualified majority and knock the president out.
Second, the president came up, by way of compromise, with an “imperative mandate” idea that quietly implied a ban on members of parliament shifting from group to group—something the ruling majority would not accept, and not only out of sheer ambition. The coalition could retain, let alone strengthen, its majority only by winning over deputies from other groups. More importantly, they could easily lose the majority if the Communists quit the coalition—a tangible threat. So parliament was doomed to be dissolved for formal reasons much more sound than those the president specified in his resolution.
It is hard to tell now which option was the worst, since President Yushchenko has once again made a choice between “bad” and “very bad,” something that has been his lot since the revolution.
Prime Minister Yanukovich has his chances on the upswing. That is evident. Yet, he can hardly support the idea of an early election. Even if he polls 40%, as the most optimistic forecasts have it, he may end up all alone in the new parliament, what with the small chances of his allies, especially the Socialists—they might be left outside parliament altogether. As for the Communists, they are extremely unreliable to side with even if they do get into parliament.
It does not take a sociologist to weigh the prospects of Our Ukraine, the president’s party, which appears to have a majority of the electorate in only four smaller regions, promising it a national total of 9-10%, and even that according to the most optimistic expectations.
Our Ukraine was a junior partner last year, a position that today looks like a dazzling success, by way of comparison. As for Tymoshenko, she may yet reappear in the foreground even if her election results repeat last year’s.
There is another considerable force emerging on the Orange side, the Narodna Samooborona (People’s Self-Defense), led by Yury Lutsenko, former Socialist and one-time interior minister. All that taken together promises the Orange coalition about 5% more votes than they have now, according to Alexander Vishnyak, leader of the independent Ukrainian Sociology Service.
Yushchenko does not seem to have the makings of an effective minority figure — but then, Ukraine may see quite a different arrangement.
All Ukrainian political forces without exception are dead set against Tymoshenko’s leadership. The nascent Narodna Samooborona, for one, is no less opposed to her than the veteran Our Ukraine.
However, as the most dynamic and spectacular of the Orange figures, Tymoshenko would hardly accept anything but the prime-ministerial portfolio—at any rate, she never has before. So the same old story will be repeated—an Orange coalition will be nipped in the bud again, and Our Ukraine will ponder whether to concede to a broad-based coalition with Yanukovich or plod along in a never-ending crisis with a parliament in which it still has no majority, once more betwixt and between. There is a ray of hope for Yushchenko in this bleak picture: he can retain his post up to the next presidential election—a hope that may outweigh all the formidable dangers.
All those forecasts will be irrelevant unless the country goes to the polls on May 27—rather a vague prospect for today, as there is only a flimsy chance that the parties will solve the crisis at the negotiating table. Neither of the contending sides has a sure chance, so they may yet meet each other halfway. But even if they do, the crisis will merely move to another stage. The match cannot end in a knockout victory, and the boxers are beginning to realize that.