Ukraine lurches toward another political crisis

By bne IntelliNews February 2, 2007

Ben Aris in Berlin -

Ukraine is heading for another political crisis. On Monday, the party of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych intends to publish and bring into force a new law governing the cabinet, which effectively strips President Viktor Yushchenko of much of his power.

The Party of Regions is insisting that Yushchenko, who has already vetoed the law twice, sign it into law by Monday. If Yushchenko fails to do so, the Regions party said it will unilaterally publish the law and plunge the country into a fresh constitutional crisis.

According to Ukrainian Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, the law "On the Cabinet of Ministers" is due to be published in Monday's issue of the Ofitsiynyy Vistnyk Ukrayiny [Ukranie's Official Bulletin] journal, after which it will enter into force.

The law has already been placed on the state legislative register, but that by itself is not enough to activate the law; publication in Ofitsiynyy Vistnyk is, however. Under Article 94 Part 5 of the Ukrainian Constitution, a law comes into force 10 days after it is officially made available to the public in one of the nominated publications, of which Ofitsiynyy Vistnyk Ukrayiny is the usual one.

The same article says that in case the president does not sign a law, the veto on which parliament has overridden, this law shall be made available to the public by the speaker of the parliament and then published with the speaker's signature.

Princess Troublemaker>

Parliament approved the law on December 21. Parliamentary Speaker Oleksander Moroz signed the law on December 27 and then sent it to the president, who vetoed the law on January 11 and sent it back to parliament with suggestions for changes.

After opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko threw her lot in with Regions, parliament managed to override the presidential veto on January 12 and sent the law back to the president again the same day. Yushchenko claimed the text of the second version was slightly different from the text of the law approved by parliament and refused to sign again on January 19, effectively vetoing the law for a second time.

Confusion reigns supreme

Now the situation has become confused. Yushchenko hasn't clearly vetoed the law, which would give Speaker Moroz the right to sign it in his place, and so parliament is intending to publish (and so empower) a law that has not been clearly authorised by the correct authorities.

Yushchenko's Deputy Secretariat Chief of Staff Ihor Pukshyn said Wednesday that, "Any action to publicize the law or register it as a legal act is illegal, as the bill passed on January 12 is no such act."

The dispute is very likely to end up in the Constitutional Court, but Yanukovych won't wait around for the decision to act with the assumed powers of the new law. For example, in the last month the Interior Ministry has been purged and key police officers across the country have been replaced with people loyal to Yanukovych.

Volodymyr Radchenko was appointed the new deputy prime minister in charge of law enforcement this month by the government. Yuriy Lutsenko, the previous interior minister who was appointed by Yushchenko but subsequently ousted, claims that appointment is a further encroachment by the cabinet on presidential powers.

This is politics at its basest: he who controls the police and security forces holds the real power in the country.

Worse, the Constitutional Court might be next. Yushchenko owes his job to a decision by this court to uphold claims of vote rigging in the 2004 elections and announced him as the winner of the elections at the height of the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych said in an interview earlier this week that there was a need for the "further improvement of the Ukrainian constitution," although he didn't say which problems with the constitution he wanted to fix.

The Tymoshenko Show

Ukraine finds itself in this mess because of Yulia Tymoshenko. Regions is the biggest fraction in the Rada, but by itself doesn't command enough votes to override a presidential veto. It was only the decision of Tymoshenko's eponymous' fraction to support the vote that garnered enough votes to shoot down Yushchenko's veto.

Observers were surprised by Tymoshenko's decision to vote with Yanukovych, as she will have to pay a political price after supporting her nemesis in the Orange Revolution on the Rada's floor.

The immediate benefit was to remind everyone that in Ukraine the opposition has real power and Tymoshenko is a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, Ukraine is now the only country in the CIS with a fully functioning and effective opposition in parliament and so despite the disappointing development of politics in the two years after the people took to the streets, Ukraine has made a really big step forward towards a real democracy.

However, analysts say that Tymoshenko may be counting on causing exactly the sort of political crisis that is now on the cards in the hope to forcing an early election.

Perhaps in anticipation of this, the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko (BYT) began forming a list of parliamentary candidates this week, despite the fact that the next elections are not due for another three years.

Speaking at a meeting of local council leaders, where BYT scored well in parliamentary elections in March, Tymoshenko called on her supporters in local government to back her call for early elections.

"I stress, we have to make every legal effort to hold the election to the Supreme Council [parliament] as early as possible. The mafia shall not rule the country till 2011. That is exactly what we are doing in the Constitutional Court now - our political force has made all necessary submissions," Tymoshenko said.

Clearly the Princess Leia look-alike fancies her chances in a fresh poll. Tymoshenko also said that the YTB shall obtain better results than at the parliamentary election in March 2006. "We have to build the system in such a way that we receive an absolute majority and the right to form the Cabinet," she said.

The ball is now in Yushchenko's court, but he is in a no-win situation. If he signs off on the law he will lose his political power. If he doesn't and there are early elections, then his party Our Ukraine, which is now deeply unpopular, will be trounced in the poll.

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