Yushchenko Visits Canada leaving Political Crisis at Home

David Marples

Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has been visiting Canada this week. During the visit he addressed Parliament, which was expected to recognize the 1932-33 Ukraine Famine as an act of genocide on 28 May.

However, he left behind in Ukraine a growing row with his Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko over the privatization of property and the distribution of authority between the office of the president and that of his former Orange ally.

Tymoshenko has made plain her desire to provide compensation for those citizens whose deposits in the former Soviet Savings Bank were rendered worthless by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. She intends to do this by privatizing a number of key companies, chief of which is the Odesa Portside Plant (OPZ), which produces ammonia and nitrogen fertilizer. The Prime Minister proposed to sell the plant at an auction, and then use the funds accrued to compensate investors and sponsor social programs. Such measures would presumably raise her popularity with the public on the eve of new presidential elections, which will take place late in 2009 or early in 2010.

The Prime Minister’s other key declared task was to remove the intermediary company in Ukraine’s discussions of gas questions with Russia: RosUkrEnergo.

Yushchenko, who hosted an energy summit this week in Kyiv, has stood in the way of both projects, most notably by opposing Tymoshenko’s plans to install her own candidate, Andrii Portnoy, as head of the State Property Fund. In early February, the Prime Minister suspended the Fund’s leader Valentyna Semenyuk and appointed Portnoy in her place. Yushchenko issued a legal appeal against the firing, which was duly turned down by the Constitutional Court. Ultimately, both the president and Prime Minister threatened to use force to back up their candidates. In addition, the Prosecutor-General, following the president’s instructions, has filed a criminal case against Portnoy for trying to privatize state property illegally.

These events have been accompanied by another conflict concerning amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution. It is no secret that Tymoshenko would prefer that more power be given to the Parliament. She has assured Yushchenko that he would be allowed to extend his term in office, albeit with weakened authority. Yushchenko has accused Tymoshenko and leader of the Social Democratic Party Viktor Medvedchuk of causing a political crisis through surreptitious changes to the Constitution, without broad public debate. The Constitutional Council appointed by the president, meanwhile, has reportedly completed its own draft of a revised Constitution that would bring about power sharing while setting up a second chamber, the Senate, which would appoint key officials nominated by the president.

Some supporters of the president accuse Tymoshenko of a naked grab for power that would see her as the main figure in Ukrainian politics. Yet neither Yushchenko nor Tymoshenko have any support from the largest parliamentary faction, the Regions Party of Ukraine, led by their old nemesis and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Critics of Yushchenko complain that the president has no clearly delineated policy other than to remain in office, and that he has floundered, moving from one crisis to another and unable to put together a solid band of support in the Parliament. An April poll suggests that were a presidential election to be held at that time, the main contest would be between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych (both have the support of over 20% of the electorate), with Yushchenko a distant third at around 8%. Our Ukraine, Yushchenko’s political party, similarly commands only 8% support and won only one province in the 2007 parliamentary election. Such standings render Yushchenko a likely one-term president.

The president, however, is fighting resolutely. He has admonished Tymoshenko for unanticipated high rates of inflation in the country and ordered the Cabinet to come up with a viable economic plan. He has sent the Presidential Guard to patrol the State Property Fund, and he has declared the Odesa Portside Plant to be an object of vital strategic interest that cannot be subjected to privatization. He has dissolved Parliament twice since 2006, and it seems only a matter of time before he dismisses Tymoshenko for a second time (her first Cabinet in 2005 lasted for only nine months). At that point the confrontation would become an open contest for the presidency.

Yet none of these measures really address the main question, which is how Ukraine can bring about the sort of stable government it had under former president Leonid Kuchma in 1994-2004. Ironically, the much more democratic and far less corrupt regime established through the Orange Revolution has been mired by political in-fighting and power struggles, largely between the presidency and the Prime Minister’s office.

A version of this article appeared in the Edmonton Journal on 25 May.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

One comment

  1. Budd

    Ukraine has a big problem. You have these politicians that were communist leaders trying to convert over to Democracy, so they are mixing the 2 together and it just don’t work. They should bar all former communists from holding office like Czech Republic has done and, with that, the Czech Republic has grown. Yushchenko has tried but still his thoughts are Communist/Democracy mixed. Tymoshenko just has a basic idea of what to do with Ukraine, but she, also, is mixing the 2 together. Kuchma was good but ruled with an iron hand and, perhaps, this is what Ukraine needs and I’m talking not about a Communist way of thought but, perhaps a Socialist type of government. Pure Democracy will NOT work in Ukraine. They have NO social programs to put people to work and those that ARE working aren’t paid much and the farmers are paid even less. Increase the retirement wages, increase the workers wages to a minimum standard, bring in factories from other countries that will hire Ukrainians for a fair wage. Stop bickering! This makes matters worse. Change the constitution for the people, not for the leaders. Give Parliament more power–such as the US House and Senate with the President having valid veto power and not a power of dictatorship. You can’t dissolve the parliament and expect the country to grow. Let the people elect the members of Parliament and let them have a voice! It seems the President controls too much. In the west you have Democracy and in the east you have socialism as Russia has. What good is a president that has too much power? The country should be run by the people and for the people. I have been to Ukraine several times and all the people needs direction…a future to look forward to to have a well respected country! Ukraine is the 2nd largest country in Europe and it’s stagnant without good leadership. If the people wants to go back to Russian Democracy then it should be–by vote. You can’t force people to accept a form of government they don’t want! Yanukovych is a pimp for Russia and shouldn’d be taken seriously. He shouldn’t be respected because his conviction of being a child sex offender. And “Our Ukraine” wants a president like that? There are NO government work projects to bring Ukraine into the 21st Century. The larger cities such as Kiev, Uzhgorod and Kharkov are showing a great deal of progress but the progress doesn’t extend out to the smaller cities. The refineries are run by Russia. Why are they there in Ukraine? The seaport of Odessa is run by Russians but they pay rent. They should leave. This isn’t part of Russia anymore and Ukraine needs a strong president to support this. When Russia pulled out of Ukraine, they took a lot of factories with them. Get more factories from other countries. All I hear is bickering between officials. Man, this has got to stop! How can the president formulate a solution to Ukraines problems by bickering with his staff. Let the people elect the Vice President (Prime Minister.) Ukraine has a long way to go and needs to make some drastic changes. Put no one that was a member of the Communist party can hold an office, that would stop a lot of bickering and the ‘what to do” attitude. The biggest change should be starting government works projects and pay a good and fair wage. Ukraine isn’t broke! By doing this, it would boost the economy. The retirement is virtually nothing. No one can make it on Ukraines social security system. Take care of the elderly!! Give the people hope and how can the people have hope if the leadership acts like children? Ukraine has a lot of farming and resources…use them! Stop relying on Russia for natural gas and oil. Find another way because Russia will use this against Ukraine like always. Ukraine used to be called Little Russia. Well, times have changed. It’s Ukraine now and the people needs better. My email is alveshire@gmail.com for your comments directly to me and I’ll answer all if they are serious. A lot of people are immigrating to America…they have America right there!! Again, give the masses hope!

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