What about the Maidan?

What about the Maidan?

Almost two years ago in Ukraine, up to one million people joined together to protest against a regime that had suppressed their freedom, supported a culture of deep corruption, rigged an election and been  implicated in at least one murder.

Almost two years ago in Ukraine, up to one million people joined together to protest against a regime that had suppressed their freedom, supported a culture of deep corruption, rigged an election and been  implicated in at least one murder.   In Independence Square, these people they chanted slogans demanding “bandits to jail,” “freedom,” and “Yushchenko – President!”

Their chants followed a presidential election found by all internationally accredited election monitoring organizations to be unfair and not free.  During the election, then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s government reportedly used state resources and well-paid “private” security services to, among other things, bribe and intimidate voters, while altering the vote counts in some areas.

After 17 days of protest, the election was invalidated, a new ballot was held, and Ukraine welcomed its new President Viktor Yushchenko. “The people won!” said Anya, after the announcement that Yushchenko had been elected.  “For 70 years we were slaves,” said Andriy.  “In 1991, we received freedom on paper, but it was still slavery, just different masters.  Now, people want to hold their heads up.  People want freedom. … This was a victory of the nation.” (1)

 

What a difference two years make.

 

On 18 July, Viktor Yanukovich was nominated by the new parliamentary majority to return as prime minister.  Since Ukraine has now become a parliamentary-presidential republic, Yanukovich – the man disgraced, discredited and literally chased out of town in 2004 – could now become more powerful than the president.

 

Two days later, the bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko  walked out of parliament in protest, calling on the president to disband the parliament, with bloc members draping their seats in a massive Ukrainian flag as they went. (2)

The return of Yanukovich officially occurred as a result of the disintegration on 7 July of the “orange coalition of democratic forces,” comprised of the parties that had led the revolution protests – Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYUT) and the Socialist Party.  But it was actually a much longer process – beginning in September 2005, when Yushchenko dismissed Tymoshenko from her position as prime minister, thus splintering the “orange team” – and intensifying after the parliamentary elections of March 2006.

Following the parliamentary elections, the three “orange” parties together could have secured a slim majority, and should have been able quickly to put together a coalition to create a government.

 

But the disappointing third place finish of President Yushchenko’s party, following a series of (legally unproven) corruption charges against some of the top names on his party’s electoral list, made negotiations difficult.  Neither Yushchenko nor his allies appeared able to accept that their party had finished behind the bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko – until then, always a junior ally.

 

But, in March, Tymoshenko’s calls to clean up corruption and fulfill the “goals of the Maidan” (Independence Square), resonated with voters.  Her party’s 22 percent of the electorate placed it well ahead of the 14 percent gained by Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, and the 5% of the Socialists.  When seats were redistributed after subtracting the votes given to parties that did not pass the electoral threshold, the three partners would have had a majority of 239 out of 450 deputies.

 

Still, Yushchenko and Our Ukraine delayed, seemingly hoping that by postponing a coalition agreement, they could extract bigger dividends.  The biggest, of course, was the prime minister’s post, which Tymoshenko immediately claimed, as the leader of the largest party in the potential coalition.  Our Ukraine officially balked, suggesting that their party, as the party of the president, should choose the prime minister.

 

Our Ukraine also undertook “secret” negotiations (although they were reported throughout the media and confirmed by individual party members) with the party that placed first in the poll– Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions.  Drawing on the heavily populated, Russian-speaking Eastern regions of the country, Yanukovich’s party received 32 percent of the vote.

 

The Our Ukraine cat-and-mouse game with BYUT and the Party of Regions continued for almost three months, leaving the country with a caretaker government.  Clearly, Our Ukraine and the president had a difficult job and  difficult choice – one not made easier at all times by the demands of BYUT.  But Yushchenko’s delay in choosing to unite with his former revolution partners was costly.  By that time, the Party of Regions had badly outmaneuvered the “orange” team.  Regions had gone behind Yushchenko’s back to “steal” the Socialist Party.

 

Just days after Our Ukraine, BYUT and the Socialists announced their “coalition of democratic forces,” Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz switched sides and joined his party with the Communists and Yanukovich, creating a new majority. (3)  From the parliamentary tribune, Tymoshenko claimed that large amounts of money had changed hands, while the deputies in her faction chanted, “Moroz is Judas!”  Regardless, the “democratic majority” was over before it began. (4)

 

The episode was oddly and ominously similar to the situation following the parliamentary election in 2002.

 

Then, Our Ukraine, BYUT and the Socialists officially attempted to form a majority with certain members of the Communist Party and other unaffiliated deputies.  However, throughout the negotiations to form Ukraine’s first ever “democratic majority,” Yushchenko also negotiated with then-President Kuchma’s United Ukraine Party.  In exchange for a promise to name him prime minister, Yushchenko reportedly agreed to work with United Ukraine instead of the Socialists and BYUT.  But at the last moment, United Ukraine reneged on its promises, used various techniques to convince individual deputies to desert the “democratic forces,” and created a majority without Yushchenko, BYUT or the Socialists.

 

“The agreement to appoint Viktor Yushchenko as prime minister was brilliant bait,” Yulia Tymoshenko said at the time.  “While the businessmen of United Ukraine made a show of discussing details of the agreement with Yushchenko, the authorities were actively pulling away people’s deputies from the opposition majority.” (5)

 

The Party of Regions also used the prime minister position as bait in 2006.  The party reportedly said it would allow Our Ukraine to name the prime minister – something the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc would not do.  It seems, however, that this offer may have been intended to be fulfilled; Yanukovich told several officials privately that he had agreed to give up the position.  In the end, Yushchenko turned this offer down.  But, iit appears the delay had irreperably damaged the orange coalition.

 

This damage, ironically, had been predicted by Tymoshenko.  “It would be a tragedy,” she said on 29 March, “if we lost the chance to form the coalition of our three forces.  All these votes could be lost . . . if we lose time.  . . .  In 2002, we lost this chance to create such a coalition.  I don’t want to repeat this mistake and these bad results.  I don’t want this to finish the same way.  I appeal to Our Ukraine and all the leaders of the bloc not to postpone under any circumstances these negotiations.” (6) 

 

At that time, Tymoshenko’s allies privately suggested that representatives from the Party of Regions had begun calling individual deputies and offering various incentives to leave the coalition.  It appears that, with enough time, these incentives worked.

 

Following the announcement of the new Communist-Socialist-Party of Regions majority, several citizens groups set up a new “tent camp” on the Maidan to protest a possible government led by Yanukovich, and to urge the president to dissolve parliament and call new elections. BYUT and the Ukrainian People’s Party (Rukh-Kostenko) quickly joined them.  Our Ukraine did not.

 

After negotiating again with both BYUT and Regions, Our Ukraine declared itself in opposition.   But a number of media reported that negotiations continue with Yanukovich, to try to bring Our Ukraine into the government.  “Our Ukraine has no right to be in the opposition,” Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said. “We must influence the process of development of our state whoever the Prime Minister is and whatever coalition is formed.” (7)

Our Ukraine’s desire to influence the government makes it unlikely that Yushchenko will take the drastic step of dissolving parliament, as BYUT suggests.  Even more, Our Ukraine’s poll ratings have slipped considerably since March, meaning a new election is likely to diminish the party’s influence further.

In Ukraine, where a central power has always ruled strongly and exclusively, there is a limited understanding of an opposition’s role. Nevertheless, a number of politicians within the Our Ukraine party – reform-oriented politicians who have always supported a “democratic coalition,” and who worked hard to unite the parties – have announced their intention to construct a “shadow government.”  The Our Ukraine members also are working with BYUT to determine how they will influence and monitor the cabinet.  This assumes, of course, that BYUT will return to the parliament, and that Our Ukraine will remain in the opposition.

Since the government will likely include a number of individuals previously charged with crimes, the monitoring function of the opposition will be essential.  Should the new “democratic opposition” prove able to effectively monitor and influence the government in power, Ukrainians will be able to say that the gains of the orange revolution have not disappeared.

 

Source Notes:

(1) Author interviews, Dec 04, Independence Square, Kyiv.

(2) Parliamentary Session, 19 Jul 06 via Rada TV/5 Kanal.

(3) Agence France Presse, 1210 GMT, 7 Jul 06 via Lexis-Nexis.

(4) Parliamentary Session, 8 Jul 06 via Rada TV/5 Kanal.

(5) “Ukrainian Former Deputy PM Claims Role of Opposition Leader,”

Segodnya, 17 Jun 02, p. 4.

(6) Press Conference of Yulia Tymoshenko, 29 Mar 06.

(7) ForUm, 1124 GMT, 7 Jul 06.

 

by Tammy Lynch

THE ISCIP ANALYST

Boston Univeristy, USA

Volume XII, Number 7, 20 July 2006

 

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