Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ukraine: New Government in the Making

On Wednesday, news broke that a new orange coalition government is forming in Ukraine. Both president Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Timoshenko bloc (BYuT) confirmed that an agreement had been reached. The news comes amid rumours that Yushchenko was teaming up with orange revolution enemy Yanukovich and his Party of Regions.

If the deal goes through, Yulia Timoshenko will once more become Prime Minister, which has been her primary goal since she was sacked from the post last September. The coalition will be between Our Ukraine, BYuT, and the Socialist Party, which has been the main negotiating approach all along.

Indeed, negotiations to form a coalition between Our Ukraine, BYuT, and the Socialist Party, have been underway ever since the 26 March parliamentary elections. At the beginning of April, Our Ukraine announced that unity had been reached. Then, nothing happened. In mid-May, it was Timoshenko's turn to declare that a new government had been agreed on. Once again, nothing happened. So, one might well perceive news from Kiev on a new cabinet with sound skepticism, were it not for a constitutional deadline on forming a government. Therefore, it now appears that Ukraine will eventually get out of its post-election political deadlock. However, as BBC's Kiev correspondent states, "The deal will not be certain until it is signed."

If the deal goes through, BYuT is said to receive a dominant 11 cabinet posts, including the Premiership. Our Ukraine will get the post as speaker of the Parliament, and has already nominated Petro Poroshenko. The Socialist Party will appoint the vice-Premier.

By all appearances, Ukraine will be in for a tough political ride with its new cabinet. Neither president Yushchenko nor Poroshenko stand Timoshenko, since the fall-out and scandals leading to Timoshenko's dismissal as Premier last September.

Moreover, constitutional changes this year weaken the presidential powers to the benefit of parliament - the Verkhovna Rada. The Rada has a long tradition of relative independence, playing its role in the political balance of power, and party allegiance is far from granted. With fiery and controversial Yulia Timoshenko as Premier, parliament may decide to get in the way of her plans at leisure.

However, there is one strong binding-force uniting the new government. The political forces of the Orange Revolution has failed once. This time they have to succeed or face total political discredit for the foreseeable future. Thus, as Ukrainian political analyst, Volodymyr Fesenko, put it to AFP: "It's a second chance and if they fail, they'll all go down together."

Turning to Ukraine's international relations, with Timoshenko as Prime Minister, relations with Russia are in obvious jeopardy. Already the same day that the new coalition was announced, Timoshenko called for a review of the Russian-Ukrainian gas deal that ended the New Year's gas crisis earlier this year, BBC reports.

In addition to this, the US Marine Corps participated in exercises on the Crimean peninsula a few weeks ago, which sparked fears in Moscow of Ukrainian ambitions to join Nato. Thus, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned Ukraine that such a move would seriously hurt relations Moscow and Kiev.

The majority of Crimeans are ehtnic Russians, and the Black Sea peninsula was transferred from Russia to Ukraine as late as in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Therefore, the presence of US troops in a disputed Ukrainian region does not serve to improve Ukrainian relations with Russia. Indeed, the government that is now being formed will inevitably have to meet major challenges in its relations with the Kremlin.


Scope said...

It's always these kinda power struggles and races that nothing is done.

Cyrill said...

I beg your pardon...

"The Rada has a LONG (my emph) tradition of relative independence"

How old is Rada?

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Cyrill,

Your question really has an interesting twist. Should one refer to the institution or the elected body when discussing the Verkhovna Rada?

When seeing it as an institution, the Rada had its first session back in 1938, i.e. as a Soviet legislative body. On 16 July 1990, the Rada decided to proclaim Ukraine's sovereignty and on 24 August 1991, the country's independence.

The question is how to interpret the wording "long" when referring to Rada's relative independence. I perceive this in relative terms, i.e. since Ukrainian independence in 1991, and in comparison to other states of the FSU. From a comparative perspective, I feel that the Rada has a "long tradition of relative independence."

If, on the other hand, looking at the issue from the perspective of an elected body, it is obvious that each elected parliament will have to show its own merits during its term. As the current Rada has just recently had its first session after the 26 March parliamentary elections, we still do not know how independent it will be in relation to executive power.

However, what I refer to is its relative indepence in terms of political bargaining since 1991. My argument is that the Rada has been relatively independent due to the extent of conflicting interests that is a hallmark of Ukrainian politics. Thus, the Rada has at times played a role in the balance of power in Ukrainian politics that differs from many other parliaments of the FSU. The Rada has simply not been a reliable rubberstamp for the executive branch of power. That is my point.

Thank you for making me reflect on this issue. A further discussion on whether the Rada really has been so independent would be interesting. Of course, I simplify a much more complex issue, so I would welcome if someone would like to fill in the gaps.



Cyrill said...

Thank you, Vilhelm. A fair answer. So you think that during Kuchma's reign, Rada was still fairly independent? I have to admit, I have not been following Ukrainian politics until Gongadze affair.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Cyrill,

The answer is always relative. My point is that there are traditionally many conflicting interests in Ukrainian politics. This is reflected in the Verkhovna Rada, which makes it difficult to control along a number of perspectives - economic interests, centre-periphery, language, to name but a few. These various and shifting interests may seldom form the basis of stable majorities for government policies.