Ukraine teeters on verge of another crisis

By bne IntelliNews March 30, 2007

Ben Aris in Berlin -

Ukraine is teetering on the edge of another crisis after President Viktor Yushchenko reportedly signed an order to dissolve parliament, which is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of supporters from rival political camps onto the streets of the capital this weekend for rallies.

On Thursday, an unsigned copy of a presidential decree ordering the dissolution of the Rada, the lower house of parliament, was circulating on the internet. It is not clear if the document, which would certainly cause a major constitutional crisis, has been signed. Reports from Kyiv say that it has not, but investment bank Renaissance Capital reports it has been signed but not published.

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Yushchenko is due to meet with all five of the Rada fraction chiefs Friday, which is a constitutional pre-requisite before the dissolution of parliament, but this meeting doesn't mean he will necessary carry through on his threat. However, there are reports that this meeting may have been delayed until Monday.

In either case, the existence of the document is a red rag to the ruling coalition headed by Yushchenko's Orange revolutionary nemesis, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the head of the Regions of Ukraine party.

An estimated 200,000 supporters from both Regions and Yushchenko's party Our Ukraine have been arriving in Ukraine for demonstrations that will start Friday and run through the weekend.

The ruling coalition plans to hold a national unity forum in front of the Ukrainian Home on European Square, while the ruling coalition plans to hold a national unity forum in front of the Ukrainian Home on European Square.

Potential for clashes

Yanukovych's supporters plan to surround buildings used by the ruling coalition and clashes between the two camps are possible. Some 10 buses of riot police have been placed behind the Rada building and a headquarters set up in anticipation of problems. The police are checking all buses and trains coming in and out of Kyiv.

The showdown was sparked by a growing number of defections by members of the opposition to the ruling coalition party. Almost a dozen deputies left Our Ukraine to join Regions last week, bringing its numbers in the Rada close to 300, enough for Regions to override presidential vetoes without the need for cutting deals with opposition parties.

In a particularly bitter blow, a close Yushchenko ally, wealthy businessman Anatoliy Kinakh, abandoned Our Ukraine to join Regions and was made economic minister.

Yanukovych has been making steady inroads into the president's power base and scored a coup only two weeks ago by rejecting Yushchenko's candidate for foreign minister - a presidential prerogative under the terms of the new constitution introduced last year. Yushchenko succumbed to pressure and allowed Yanukovych's ally, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, to be appointed instead. Yatsenyuk has a pro-Russia bias, say analysts.

Seeing his power slip away, Yushchenko appears to have felt he had no choice but to act. However, early elections would only benefit firebrand opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ms Gas attack

As bne reported in February, Tymoshenko has been manoeuvring to cause exactly this sort of crisis and has been preparing for elections since the start of this year. She surprised observers by supporting Regions in a vote that forced through the so-called Cabinet law, which transfers many powers that the president enjoys under the terms of the new constitution to parliament.

bne speculated at the time she was hoping to force Yushchenko to dissolve the party. Since the start of the year Tymoshenko has being touring the country and rallying her supporters, calling on them to prepare for elections.

It is unclear how Regions would fare in early elections as the party's popularity has been falling, but it is almost certain it would emerge as the largest party again. Our Ukraine's popularity has fallen precipitously since parliamentary elections last March and would effectively lose all influence in a new Rada. The fact these two parties would probably both be losers from early elections suggests a compromise may be possible.

"However disturbing recent events in Ukraine are, we believe that the likelihood of parliament's dismissal is not very high," says Katya Malofeeva head of Renaissance Capital's Kyiv office. "Our main argument is that only Yulia Tymoshenko has a chance to improve her party's standing in Ukrainian politics if early elections were called now, and would therefore benefit from the parliament's dismissal. The popularity of the two other major parties - Party of the Region and Our Ukraine – is on the decline. It would be in the best interest of these parties to avoid parliament's dismissal, in our view."

The wild card in new elections is how many Our Ukraine deputies would abandon Our Ukraine and rally to Tymoshenko's flag. Analysts in Kyiv estimate 50-60 deputies could join Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc.

Elections may not happen

However, even if Yushchenko signs the decree, it is not clear that elections would happen as analysts believe; the Rada may simply choose to ignore the order and contest its constitutionality.

Yushchenko is basing his authority to dissolve the Rada on the argument that deputies elected to the Rada running on the ticket of one party are not allowed to change affiliation mid-session. Voters chose to support a deputy on the basis of their party's platform, he argues, so if they change to another party, voters' right to choose a government representing their wishes has been abused. If the decree is signed and the Rada accepts it, then new elections would have to happen within 60 days.

Regions disputes the argument, saying the constitution does not forbid deputies to change their allegiances. "We understand that if a decree on dismissal of the parliament is indeed signed, the majority of parliamentary deputies would refuse to obey," says Malofeeva.

Tymoshenko is also mobilizing and has set up a "National Salvation Committee" as a rallying point for opposition members and potential defecting deputies. This committee is also due to meet in Kyiv this weekend. She claimed on Thursday that government agencies are trying to thwart the meeting providing another possible flash point for conflicts. Meanwhile, public sector employees are being freely delivered to Kyiv from eastern regions of Ukraine, the bloc said.

"According to the information we are receiving from regional organizations of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, the Transport and Communication Ministry is blocking the access of vehicles carrying delegates to the first meeting of the National Salvation Committee in Kyiv," her bloc said in a press release posted on Thursday.

Tymoshenko said the committee would "unite sober-minded forces and announce early elections in a lawful and constitutional away for electing a genuine parliament."

Everything now depends on if Yushchenko decides to carry through on his threat to attempt to dissolve parliament or not, which should be decided in the next few days.

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