On the Dissolution of Ukraine's Parliament

On the Dissolution of Ukraine's Parliament

In Ukraine, it is difficult to see the outside world doing much else than calling for a peaceful solution and democratic and lawful procedures.

On the evening of April 2, democratically-elected President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved the democratically-elected Ukrainian parliament. Yushchenko gave three reasons: party factions have been illegally formed, the parliament has been ineffective and it has adopted non-constitutional decisions. The first reason is at the heart of the crisis: Anatoly Kinakh, one of the leaders of Our Ukraine, has gone over to the government side together with ten other deputies from Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc. Such transactions are always made for big money in Ukraine. Yushchenko worried that the government would increase its current majority of some 270 to 300, which would amount to a constitutional majority able to override presidential vetoes and alter the constitution.

Yushchenko protested against the Law on the Cabinet of Ministers-adopted in January by Yanukovich and Tymoshenko's factions, overriding the President's veto-a dispute the dividecd Constitutional Court could sort out. The parliament has been ineffective primarily because of the constitutional strife between Yanukovich and Yushchenko, but also because Yanukovich has focused on chipping away Yushchenko's powers rather than undertaking any reforms.

The ultimate reason for Yushchenko's dissolution of the parliament is that he was pressed against the wall and had few other options left, other than leaving the political stage. He was not allowed to appoint his own chairman of the SBU, and two of his candidates for minister of foreign affairs were refuted. His veto on the Law on the Cabinet of Ministers was overruled. His strongest argument is that the new constitution does not allow deputies to leave one faction for another and stay in parliament. They should resign their mandate and offer their seats to the next member on the party list in such a case (as is done, for instance, in Sweden), he argues.

The driving force behind the dissolution of the parliament has been Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been campaigning for it ever since she was excluded from the new government last August. That might appear as disrespecting the rules of democracy-that is, accepting defeat in a free and fair election-though her argument is that Yanukovich bought the socialists' support for $300 million. When asked for the legal base of her claim here in Washington one month ago, she argued that laws were of such poor quality in Ukraine that they must not be taken too seriously.

The constitutional basis for new elections appears to be missing, because a government has been formed, it has a substantial majority and it has adopted a budget in good order. But the lawlessness of the Yanukovich government is palpable.

The popular complaints about the parliament and government are of quite a different type, but they are rampant. I looked into this when in Ukraine just over a week ago (March 21-25). Corporate raiding is a major concern. No less than 33,000 enterprises, mainly small and medium-sized firms, have been subject to raiding, as legal order seems to be breaking down. Five contract murders have been recorded over a fight about the big marketplace in Dnepropetrovsk. One prominent Russian businessman in Ukraine was shot dead on the staircase of a court in Kiev when he was let out on bail. Value added tax refunds and public investment require a kickback of 30 percent. None of the badly needed reform legislation has been adopted. Even so, the economy is booming away with a growth rate of over 7 percent, and the budget balance is always better than planned.

The Regions, the ruling party with some 180 deputies, have become divided into three factions. One faction with about a quarter of the Regions' deputies consists of First Deputy PM Minister of Finance Nikolai Azarov and Minister of Energy Yuri Boiko. Many Ukrainians perceive them as the most corrupt and pro-Russian politicians, as attested to by allegations made in the press. They seem to control most appointments and financial flows, and virtually all appointees come from their group in Donetsk. The opposing faction is headed by Rinat Akhmetov, who controls some ninety deputies, sixty employed by him and thirty deputies from the south of Ukraine dissatisfied with the Donetsk dominance.

In between are most of the prominent Donetsk politicians, including Yanukovich and Deputy PM Andrei Kluiev, with the last quarter of the Regions' deputies. They do not quite get into the government act run by Azarov and Boiko. Akhmetov's main interest is to improve his reputation and clean up Ukraine's legislation, which would raise the value of his substantial real capital. He employs 160,000 people and hopes to make two IPOs in 2008. The corruption racket in the government damages his reputation and debases his wealth. During eight months in power, the Yanukovich government has adopted little legislation except the already prepared WTO legislation, the budget and the controversial Law on the Cabinet of Ministers. Akhmetov's dissatisfaction is a concern for Yanukovich. The Ukrainian government might even be called an Azarov government rather than a Yanukovich government.

The strife between Azarov and Yanukovich came to a head two weeks ago, when Azarov sacked two excellent deputy ministers of economy (Maksiuta and Musina), apparently for being competent, not corrupt and not part of the Azarov machine. Yanukovich responded by sacking Minister of Economy Makukha, who was his man but too weak to stand up against Azarov. Yanukovich replaced Makukha with Kinakh, a leader of Our Ukraine, which unleashed the current constitutional crisis. He also setup a reform commission, which he leads, to take some economic policy initiative away from Azarov. Possibly, because the Regions leaders were so preoccupied with their own internal strife, they did not pay attention to the president and the opposition that were pressed into the same corner by their seizing Kinakh and ten other deputies.

At the same time, several other government changes were made. Yushchenko's excellent first deputy chief of staff Arseniy Yatseniuk was approved by parliament as minister for foreign affairs, after the President's candidates Tarasiuk and Ohryzko had been refused. The other appointees, however, were unknown people from Donetsk, largely from Azarov's large stable. Akhmetov got nothing.

From Our Ukraine's perspective, it might have made more sense to lure Akhmetov's large faction over and fight constitutional issues in the Constitutional Court. Instead, Yushchenko jumped on Tymoshenko's adventurous band wagon, because he had nothing but complete marginalization or even impeachment to look forward to as Yanukovich and Moroz spoke about getting a constitutional majority of 300 by the summer. The government did not leave Yushchenko any room for compromise.

After having issued the decree on the dissolution of the parliament, Yushchenko acted fast and ably. First, thanks to a recent decision to launch a new presidential bulletin, he managed to have it officially published in spite of a blockade by the two official government gazettes.

Second, the minister of defense, Anatoly Hrytsenko, Yushchenko's only remaining power minister immediately expressed the military's support for the President. The acting head of SBU also came out in his support, as well as several key law enforcement officials, although the minister of interior belongs to the Regions. The dominant armed force in Ukraine is the Ministry of Interior-now run by the government, but traditionally divided into many special forces that were highly divided under Kuchma and appear to be so now. The Ministry of Interior could be regionally divided too. Yushchenko has seized a much stronger hold over law enforcement than expected, showing that his staff has prepared him well.

Third, the parliament refused to accept the dissolution and continued to meet and called on the Constitutional Court to work night and day to review Yushchenko's decree within five days. But does parliament have the right to do so? 5,000 Regions activists surrounded the Constitutional Court. Who can take its judgment seriously after such extraordinary pressure?

Fourth, the parliament tried to oust the Yushchenko loyalist who heads the Central Election Commission (CEC), after he declared himself prepared to organize elections on May 27. But they then restored the CEC, previously discredited for falsification during the Orange Revolution. This decision was clearly illegal. The parliament also cut-off funding for elections, which might be illegal and will hardly be effective.

Fifth, Yushchenko shored up support from 24 of 27 regional governors, meeting with all of them in surprisingly strong performance.

Sixth, Our Ukraine set up an election campaign with decent politicians, leaving scandalous businessmen by the wayside.

Finally, Yushchenko met with the G-8 ambassadors, and today he has an article in the Financial Times explaining his actions. Naturally, he talked to the people to explain his actions immediately. All of a sudden, Yushchenko seems revitalized in his actions.

Huge demonstrations by both sides in Kiev last Saturday laid the groundwork for Yushchenko's action. Whether the Orange demonstrators were 70,000 or 100,000, they were numerous and showed more engagement than expected. Ukrainians are greatly dissatisfied with lawlessness and corruption once again, and the main blame is being put on Yanukovich's government, even if all sides are guilty. Orange supporters who had lost hope are cheering up. Tymoshenko avoided strife over the number of demonstrators by telling her supporters to go home.