Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv -
The eight-month political impasse between Kyiv's rival political has reached boiling point, with President Viktor Yushchenko expected to hold further talks with the lower house speaker and parliamentary faction leaders on whether to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
Yushchenko last week issued an ultimatum to his nemesis from the Orange Revolution, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, threatening to dissolve parliament if his demands are not met. Both leaders are embroiled in a power struggle, with each striving for the role of top dog in a polarised country.
The presidential press service said over the weekend that Yushchenko intends Monday to hold political consultations with Speaker Alexander Moroz and the heads of parliamentary factions.
"Then we will take decisions according to the current situation. If those negotiations are futile, this fact will show the political parties, particularly those that form the executive, are refusing to carry out a fruitful dialogue, Yushchenko said. "I want to say frankly that I am ready to issue a decree on dissolving parliament."
The threat comes after Ukraine's increasingly marginalized president flexed his muscles on March 29 threatening to dissolve parliament - a move which could oust Yanukovych.
A president cornered
"The time for unproductive roundtables has passed," he said referring to "unconstitutional" defections of opposition deputies to Yanukovych's majority.
Yushchenko fears his opponent could increase his power base in parliament from about 260 seats to 300, which would be enough to override presidential vetoes.
Opposition leaders have accused Yanukovych's camp of buying off their deputies, paying millions of dollars for each. Yanukovych's coalition has denied the accusations and dubbed Yushchenko's threat as a bluff. They pledge not to recognize his dissolving of parliament, and say they would challenge such a move in Ukraine's Constitutional Court. This would entrench the impasse; the Constitutional Court is divided on party lines and is already flooded with appeals from both sides. Each side has filed appeals to the court aimed at shifting authority on foreign and domestic policy in their favour, but the court remains deadlocked.
The dispute ended up on the streets over the weekend, with about 100,000 people turning up to hear speeches by the leaders of both camps. The Regions of Ukraine party demonstration on European square broke up almost immediately after Yanukovych spoke at around 6pm on Saturday. The demonstration on Maidan was much bigger it filled the square and the crowd backed down the Kreshatik but also by 10pm the crowds had gone home. A small tent city has been set up outside the Rada building by supporters of Regions, but this is a token show.
The overall sense is that while supporters of the various camps answered their leaders call to rally, there is a feeling of fatigue at the ongoing political imbroglios. In light of this obvious political fatigue, a deal between the president and prime minister is now the most likely outcome of the talks, say analysts.
A never-ending story
Yanukovych, the humiliated loser of the 2004 Orange revolution, staged a remarkable comeback last August after Yushchenko nominated him as premier in an attempt to end four months of stalemate over a new coalition. Yushchenko agreed to nominate his archrival after securing safeguards for his pro-Western and liberal reform agenda.
The compromise was billed as a move that would bring consolidation and stability to Ukraine's divided political arena. But it was doomed from the start: vague political reforms adopted in the heat of the Orange Revolution have pitched Yushchenko and Yanukovych into a wrestling match over authority on domestic and foreign policy.
"In seven months of this parliamentary coalition, we have witnessed an orchestrated attack on the constitutional order, continued fighting for authority and the simultaneous violation of the will of voters," Yushchenko said. "This political instability has created a serious threat to the national security, sovereignty and economic development of the country."
Yushchenko has in recent months unsuccessfully called for a compromise deal, but the prime minister, while repeatedly saying he is open to a deal, keeps using political manoeuvres that leaves Yushchenko with less authority and fewer options.
Yushchenko claims to have had enough. Speaking on television late on March 29, his representative to parliament, Roman Zvarych, said there would be "no more roundtables, square tables, or rectangular tables."
Insiders say that Yushchenko, viewed by a growing number of Ukrainians as a political soft touch, is leaning more towards bold action. Yet many members of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, namely big business interests, are not expected to support such drastic action. They could splinter off allying with Yanukovych.
Yanukovych's camp, viewed by many as pro-Russian, has a strong base of support in eastern Ukraine and has warned that repeat elections could revive the east-west tension, saying that the country could split if there is another divisive vote.
Some political analysts expect Yanukovych to budge in the short term, while others maintain Yushchenko is ever more inclined to use one of his last political cards, dissolving parliament.
The move is expected to set off months of uncertainty and elections could be put off until a constitutional court rules on the issue. Yanukovych would be expected to continue running the show, but Yushchenko allies say the president could prevent this through presidential orders. Some allies of the president defended the drastic move of dissolving parliament, saying uncertainty and instability will persist under the status quo as well.
Polls show each side with a near equal chance in repeat election. The increasingly popular opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is expected to post a strong showing, mustering at least 30% in a repeat vote, but the firebrand female politician also has chance of picking a growing number of disillusioned voters.
Yanukovych's party also has about support 30% support, but support from their traditional electoral base in eastern Ukraine has been shaky due to rising utility tariffs.
Support for Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party has sunk in the past year from about 20% to below 10%. The Socialist Party, which jettisoned the Orange camp joining Yanukovych's coalition last summer, is not expected to pass the 3 percent barrier. Polls show that the pro-Russian Communist party would pick up some votes from Yanukovych's Regions party, getting a total of about 7 percent. The ultra pro-Russian Progressive Socialist Party, currently not represented in parliament, could also pass the 3 percent barrier.
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