COMMENT: What next after the election in Ukraine?

By bne IntelliNews October 12, 2007

Ivan Presniakov of the International Centre for Policy Studies -

Both international and Ukrainian observers agree that the snap election to the Verkhovna Rada took place fairly, openly and democratically. Moreover, the election campaign itself took place in an atmosphere of relative calm, the government organized the electoral process in a transparent manner and ensured that all participants had an equal chance to access the mass media, to campaign, and to register their candidates.

But the formulation of unspoken rules, such as what can or cannot be done in putting together a coalition, underscored the urgent need for an independent judiciary, including the constitutional court, without which the regulation of any disputes over the constitution will remain impossible.

All of this is key to entrenching democracy in Ukraine.

The Orange camp can now put together a coalition

Based on the results at this time, Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc and Our Ukraine-People's Self Defence bloc can put together a coalition without even including other partners. With only 228 seats in the Rada, however, we think this will not be enough to ensure that the coalition can work steadily. Most likely it will need to invite a third party to join, which could be the Lytvyn bloc, with its 20 seats. In such a situation, the coalition will have 248 votes.

Still, including the Lytvyn Bloc carries a number of risks as well as benefits. For one thing, the two main parties will have to give up their previous agreement to split government and other posts right down the middle, something that is actually written into the latest agreement between Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine. For another, there are doubts about where the loyalties of the Lytvyn Bloc lie.

We still consider it unlikely that a broad coalition will be established between Our Ukraine and the Party of the Regions immediately after the election. Our Ukraine will not be a stable coalition party for Regions. Moreover, both part of the Our Ukraine bloc itself, such as Ukrainiska Pravnytsia, Narodna Samooborona and parts of the Nasha Ukraina party have completely distanced themselves from such an option.

It follows that, for the president himself, such a coalition would have the effect of undermining support in the Rada: he would find himself opposed by both the Tymoshenko Bloc and part of his own faction. Moreover, a coalition between Our Ukraine and Regions would still not guarantee the president support from Regions for his initiatives in the Rada.

The formation of a broad coalition will also reduce support for the president among Orange voters. The chances that Regions leader Viktor Yushchenko will make it into the presidential run-off in 2009 will grow even worse.

And finally, a coalition with Regions is no guarantee that it will not nominate its own candidate in the 2009 race.

This means that the most likely coalition immediately after this election will be an Orange one, with Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine, which is what the pro-presidential electorate expects. Some changes in this coalition will be possible only in the medium term, if a change in the political situation provides the main players room for political maneuvering.

The possibility of another political crisis remains

The formation of an Orange coalition should, in the short term, ease some of the antagonism in relations between the president and premier that was characteristic under the recent Yanukovych government. Still, for an end to be made to this crisis, the newly formed coalition will have to engage first of all in entrenching institutions that can guarantee that politicians play by the rules from now on. This firstly means reforming the constitutional court and the judiciary.

Secondly, it means bringing the law on the cabinet of ministers in line with the constitution, adopting the regulation for the cabinet of ministers as a bill of law, and amending the budget code. The cabinet also needs to return the president's constitutional rights, which have been taken from him in this law. In addition, it's extremely important to regulate relations within the Rada itself, as well as to give the opposition proper powers by either passing a separate law or adopting the law on the Verkhovna Rada Regulation.

These measures lay the foundation for the cabinet and the president to act on the basis of a similar interpretation of the constitution and for the legitimacy of any decisions they make to be beyond question.

And this activity should become part of the new coalition's agenda. Otherwise, the impression that the crisis is over will be short-lived. Without institutional change, the crisis will not be healed.

The Orange forces don't have a unified agenda regarding state policy and are not united by common political goals especially in terms of the 2009 presidential election. Views on public administration, the goals of economic policy, and, more important, on who leads, differ in the Orange camp. Moreover, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko make no bones about their ambitions to run in the next presidential race.

This means that, after the emotional euphoria of the joint victory dissipates, the fierce competition within the coalition will continue for the right to make strategic decisions and for leadership.

The president will want the government to carry out his agenda, and Our Ukraine supports him in this, while Tymoshenko will insist on her own goals. If democratic institutions are not strong enough, this cohabitation could end in the break-up of the coalition, and possibly even new elections. In any case, without democratic institutions, the weakness of the coalition will equate the weakness of the state.

Reforms will have to wait

The current situation does not bode well for reforms for a number of reasons. Firstly, reforms cannot be undertaken because they simply have not been planned. Other than constitutional reform and reform of the judiciary, no other reforms were under discussion during the election campaign.

For instance, despite all the promises to increase pensions offered by all political parties across the board, not one party discussed the continuation of pension reform. In addition, none of the reforms of the branches of power can take place without an effective civil service. Its absence is the biggest problem of a democratic society facing Ukraine today.

Yet every last party in Ukraine has kept mum about reforming public administration.

Secondly, the approach of a presidential election means there is a relatively small window of opportunity for the Rada to undertake effective work. The election will take place in December 2009, but the campaign will begin a year earlier.

These are political realities that will remove any desire on the part of politicians to undertake reforms because the benefits are likely to be long term, while voters will feel the impact of unpopular decisions almost immediately.

Thirdly, steady economic growth that looks set to continue for the next several years removes any economic incentive for a government to undertake reforms.

Foreign policy will not change

The results of this election are unlikely to have much of an impact on Ukraine's foreign policy. The coming to office of the Tymoshenko government will not mean that Ukraine turns its back on Russia or swiftly becomes a member of Nato. Despite many demands from her partners in the future coalition, Tymoshenko did not ever outline her position on Nato during the campaign and is unlikely to make any radical changes to foreign policy, especially if this leads to serious confrontation in relations with Russia and sudden changes in the price of gas.

In future, a change of government will have ever less impact on Ukraine's foreign policy.

In the past, the fierce confrontation between Russia and the West in a political debate over Ukraine was driven by the fact that Ukraine was choosing not only its foreign policy vector, but also its model for internal development. With the democratization of its political system, this conflict between Russia and the West in Ukraine's foreign policy has been removed. Today, there is consensus among all the country's main parties about the need for Ukraine to integrate into the EU and to maintain good relations with its northern neighbour. The issue of Nato membership has become much more controversial, but every government that makes this its goal has to deal with public opinion.

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