From the Brink of Civil Strife to a New Election Campaign

By Ilya Khineyko

The most recent agreement by the three branches of government in Ukraine to hold elections on September 30, 2007 may not spell the end of the political crisis, which has plagued the country for the last two months.

“Today we can say that the political crisis is over,” Viktor Yushchenko told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Serra on May 28, a day after Yushchenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Viktor Yanukovych signed a joint statement, agreeing to set a date for early parliamentary elections on September 30. One cannot help but feel a strong sense of déjà vu regarding such confident pronouncements. After all, the political crisis in Ukraine, which began on April 2 when a presidential decree on the dissolution of the parliament was issued, was supposed to come to an end on May 4 when the president and prime minister agreed to hold early parliamentary elections. However, two important things were missing in the agreement: no definite election date was set and the signature of the third party, Verkhovna Rada speaker Moroz. At the time, it appeared that the Party of Regions had simply ‘disposed’ of the wily speaker whose party stood little chance of getting into the new Rada. These machinations, perhaps, provide a clue to understanding the tumultuous events of the last week that led to the Sunday agreement of the “Big Three.”

The latest and the most turbulent installment of the ongoing political crisis began on May 24 when Viktor Yushchenko dismissed Svyatoslav Piskun whom he had appointed as Prosecutor General only on April 26. The reason given for his dismissal was based on a formality. According to the president’s website Piskun was removed for “refusing to give up his seat in parliament as required by law.” The irony here is that according to Yushchenko’s own April 2 decree the Verkhovna Rada had been already dissolved. It should be noted that two days prior to Piskun’s firing, Yushchenko publicly criticized the office of the Prosecutor General and Piskun personally for “failing to react to the inactivity of the Central Electoral Committee and the Verkhovna Rada regarding preparations for early parliamentary elections.” There followed the well-publicized attempt by the Socialist Minister of Interior Vasyl Tsushko to reinstate Piskun by storming the General Prosecutor Office with the help of the Berkut, an elite police unit. Yushchenko retaliated by assuming control over the ministry’s interior troops, military units trained to deal with civil disturbances. It was further reported that interior troops were headed towards the capital on May 26.

It was in this atmosphere of growing alarm and increasing concerns that political and legal wrangling was about to be replaced by violence and bloodshed that the May 27 agreement was signed. Little is known regarding what occurred behind the scenes and what exactly compelled the warring parties to come to an agreement. The language of the statement is deliberately vague as many details regarding the upcoming elections were left unspecified. Furthermore, the document does not address the problems created in the past two months. Tatyana Korobova of the Ukrainian news portal Obozrevatel pointed out there are still many questions to be asked:

Will the Interior troops remain under the president’s command? What will happen to the discredited Constitutional Court? Who is the General Prosecutor? Will there be a criminal investigation against [Vasyl] Tsushko and [the constitutional court judge accused of corruption] [Suzanna] Stanik.”

These and a number of other issues may be used as a deal breaker in the coming months.

However, what ultimately makes the Ukrainian political life so unstable is not just the propensity of politicians from both camps for intrigues and their refusal to abide by the signed agreements when they no longer suit them. It is the lack of accountability for their actions. Yanukovych and his party are well aware that voters in Donetsk will vote for them regardless of how they behaved during the current crisis while Kyiv and Western Ukraine are not going to appreciate Yanukovych’s pro-Western rhetoric. Conversely, the same applies to Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko bloc that seem certain to compete with each other. The constant referrals to a possible parliamentary alliance of Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions are one ramification of this fact. However, under the present leadership whose legitimacy is deeply rooted in the events of the Orange Revolution, such a coalition is unlikely to ever take place. Instead, political forces in Ukraine compete not for voters’ hearts and minds but for control over state institutions. This struggle cannot be brought to an end with public declarations. Even if the sides are able to carry out parliamentary elections as agreed, the new parliament will remain intrinsically unstable, which makes the emergence of a new political crisis all but certain.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

One comment

  1. lengthy and in depth article but full of useful information

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