Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Yushchenko Chooses the Prime Minister of Two Evils

Kommersant: Viktor Yushchenko Chooses the Prime Minister of Two Evils

... or you could say he has to select the lesser of two weevils.

The new government in Ukraine is basically in negotiations, as coalitions are being decided/ negotiated/ schemed/. The vote count isn't final, but with 87% of the votes counted and reported, it is unlikely to change very much.
Based upon everything that I have read and seen, it appears that no matter how you slice it, Timoshenko's party is a beneficiary of the elections. It appears to be a pay-me-now or pay-me-later scenario, where she will either be part of the final government coaltion, and likely prime minister ... or she will use her being kept out of the coalition government as a political building block for the next elections.

Her party also appears (at least based upon the news reports) to be the best prepared and organized. Some of that simply could be the English-language newspapers that I largely depend upon for information, and their presentation of her party. However, based upon her political campaign posters (
Vilhelm Konnander discusses them here) she seems to be selling everything that her opposition is not: young, active, unafraid ... even disrespectful of the status quo.

It would appear the most likely coalition options would both involve Yushchenko - as Timoshenko's position on a "review of the gas deal with Russia" would make a coalition with pro-Russia Yanukovich extremely unlikely. This means that Yushchenko should either swallow his pride and reunite the Orange party - or swallow his tongue and unite with Yanukovich and the bosom of Mother Russia. Neither is a very palatable option.
Experts are still hesitant as to which parties will join which since all parties are currently in talks with all others. In theory, the five parties may form any alliances. Orange-Blue coalitions could become the stongest ones. Should Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich overcome personal animosity, they would create the Constitutional majority of 307 deputies and be able to initiate the impeachment for the president. It takes 337 votes to dismiss the president, though. The union of the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine could gather 265 votes, which is quite enough to shape the government together. The purely Orange coalition (Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party) could have 251 seats. The fourth combination of the Regions Party, the Socialists and the Communists could give them control over 233 seats and enable them to shape the government on their own.

Despite the variety of combinations to form coalitions, politicians discuss only one – the one that will unite all Orange forces. After Yulia Timoshenko and Alexander Moroz had one-on-one meetings with President Viktor Yushchenko, they declared the coalition of the three political forces (Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party) is the only valid option. Yulia Timoshenko also noted that the people of Ukraine made its choice, so he should become prime minister. Alexander Moroz said he has no ambitions to occupy the prime minister’s seat and will agree to any way of choosing the premier – either it will be the leader of the largest faction in the coalition (i.e. Yulia Timoshenko) or a compromise person for all Orange forces.

Talks inside the Orange camp have borne no fruit so far, despite all the statements. What’s more, the debate may end up with nothing. People of the president’s office have kept on repeating after the election that Yulia Timoshenko must not be let to become prime minister again. Yulia Timoshenko’s comeback will indeed be unpalatable for the president’s team. She has never made a secret of her enmity against the majority of Viktor Yushchenko’s allies. The former premier has insisted since the start of the election campaign that the coalition with Viktor Yushchenko could be built only in case he disbands his entourage. Should he do so, he will virtually entrust his fate with Yulia Timoshenko giving up any personal political ambitions.

Though this alliance will be exceptionally painful, Yulia Timoshenko does not hesitate to harshly criticize the president and his team, which can hardly help mend the relations. Ms. Timoshenko promised on Monday that in case of her comeback to the premier’s seat, she will review the gas deal with Russia. The statement was made after Yury Ekhanurov was appointed to hold talks on the coalition. Moreover, she called Viktor Yushchenko “opportunist clutching at power” and labeled his aides “fake Orange”. She said that the good performance of her bloc at the election was “a lesson given to the president”.

Ms. Timoshenko’s arrival at talks with Viktor Yushchenko was very expressive as well. She decided to use the central entrance of the president’s secretariat which foreign heads of states normally use. Besides that, Yulia Timoshenko decided that the driver should take her right to the entrance, and she would not leave the car until the president’s security opened the gate crossing Bankovskay street for her.

Postscript: I'll quickly add something from Moscow Times commentator Ander's Aslunds "The Trick to Understanding Ukraine" column from today. From my conversations with Russians, I have this impression that Russia sort of snickers at Ukraine and sees it as weak and in disarray, with the recent elections not changing anything at all, except maybe showing the pro-Russia party is the biggest. My experience tells me this is a typical Russian viewpoint, where they feel government should be strong and present only a unified face (consider the old-style vote results in Belarus for example). Anything less than this - is a sign of weakness. In my estimation, it is one of the reasons why former CCCP nations haven't taken too strongly to democracy - the damn thing looks too much like chaos to them.
Ukraine has held its first elections after the Orange Revolution. Without any qualification, they were free and fair with a high participation of 67 percent, showing that Ukraine has matured as a democracy. At the same time, Ukraine has become a parliamentary system, which will reinforce democracy in the country. The Communists have been further marginalized, and party consolidation has proceeded well, with only five parties likely to make it into parliament.

The main results of the vote reflect an amazing constancy. In December 2004, Viktor Yushchenko defeated Viktor Yanukovych with a margin of 8 percentage points, which will probably be the balance between the orange and blue, or more accurately western and eastern, coalitions. The geographic dividing line runs exactly where it did in 2004, or where it has gone for most of the last 300 years.
Regardless of the exact train of events, Ukraine is a democracy, while Russia is not. Therefore, the Kremlin finds it difficult to understand Ukraine. Whatever the Ukrainian leaders do to satisfy one constituency or another is incomprehensible to authoritarians, and if some Ukrainian action does not suit the Kremlin, it will be perceived as dictated by Washington and criticized accordingly.

Such Russian rhetoric can do nothing but drive Ukraine into the arms of the West, and as the European Union is not open, Ukraine will have to run all the faster toward NATO, not because of Western overtures, but because of Russian intimidation.

No comments: