While Yushchenko’s decision to dissolve the parliament may not be tenable from the legal point of view, there are several political factors that can play in his favor.
By Ilya Khineyko
While political wrangling is giving way to Orthodox Easter festivities, it is possible to pause and analyze the momentous events of the last week, which started from Yushchenko’s dramatic decision to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada.
Predictably enough, the Verkhovna Rada has refused to abide by this decision and has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of Yushchenko’s decree. The authority of the Central Electoral Committee headed by Serhiy Kivalov, notorious for its alleged involvement in mass falsification during the 2004 presidential elections, has been reinstated. Meanwhile, the Party of Regions has been trying to organize mass protests in Independence Square, bringing its supporters from eastern regions to the capital.
Heated political rhetoric notwithstanding, so far the situation has remained relatively calm. Furthermore, the anti-crisis coalition has taken steps in order to placate the presidential side. On April 6, the coalition’s numbers were again reduced to 238 after a ban on individual floor-crossing was adopted. Although a largely symbolic move, for it would not preclude individual deputies casting their votes with the coalition, it is a de-facto admission of wrongdoing as far as the formation of the coalition was concerned.
While both sides are awaiting the Constitutional Court’s verdict, it is by no mean clear that the President would reverse his decision should the Court side with the coalition. According to Stanislav Khomenko, from Glavred, Yushchenko would still have legitimate reasons to dissolve the parliament. First of all, he could refuse to abide by the court ruling and maintain that the decision was made under duress from the government. Even more important is the fact that Yushchenko can simply refer to the fact that legal grounds for dissolution appeared in August after the parliament had failed to form a government within the 60 day period. Thus, the president would be perfectly within his rights to advance this argument now to justify his decision to dissolve the parliament.
Whether such, rather spurious, arguments will be indeed used remains to be seen. The Constitutional Court may simply lack the necessary authority — it had been in the state of clinical death having issued no decision in the last six months — to provide a definite legal opinion. Furthermore, there have been signs that the court judges are loath to be used as political arbiters. The Court’s head, Ivan Dombrovsky, tried to resign but was persuaded to retract his decision by 11 of his colleagues. Therefore, while neither side can safely count on the Court to rule in their favor, it is not entirely clear that the coalition would seek to overturn the presidential decree at any cost.
In fact, there are some indications to suggest that the coalition’s main force, the Party of Regions, is not particularly threatened by the prospect of snap elections. According to various sociological surveys, the PofR would be poised to remain the largest parliamentary faction in a new parliament as its support is hovering around 30 per cent. The Communists are also expected to overcome the three per cent barrier. On the other hand, it is the Socialists who stand to lose most. Oleksandr Moroz’s decision to switch sides in the summer of 2006 in exchange for the appointment as Speaker, has dealt a severe blow to his personal reputation and as well as the standings of his party. As a result, the Socialists’ ratings are currently at about two per cent, which would leave them outside of parliament.
The Donetsk online portal Ostrov has speculated that the results of the voting at the last session of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) indicate that the Regions seem to have agreed to hold new elections. All but one of the Council members voted in favor of the presidential degree, including Prosecutor General Oleksander Medvedko and Oleksander Kikhtenko, Commander of the Interior Forces, who are both believed to be Yanukovych’s protégés.
Another important indication that the Party of Regions may go along with the scenario proposed by the president instead of a full scale political confrontation, is the position of the most influential figure in the Donetsk clan, Renat Akhmetov. As Yulia Mostova writes in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, the Ukrainian tycoon “has made clear that he is not interested in the concentration of power in the hands of one person, regardless of who that person – Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, or Yanukovych, might be.” Evidently, Mr. Akhmetov is very conscious of the political lessons provided by Russia where Vladimir Putin was quick to dispose of the oligarchs, such as Boris Berezovsky, who brought him to power.
There is still a chance that the coalition will decide to escalate the conflict by initiating the impeachment procedure against the President, especially if the Constitutional Court rules in its favor. However, given the delicate balance of power on the Ukrainian political scene, such prospects do not seem very plausible and thus one can anticipate the holding of new parliamentary elections in late May.