UKRAINE: ON THE CUSP OF A COALITION DEAL?
A coalition deal is reportedly close to being reached between two Ukrainian political heavyweights. Though far from being a certainty, such a coalition could bring about the formation of a two-party system in the country that would usher in greater political coherence as well as a surge of Russian influence.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and Victor Yanukovich, a former premier and now opposition leader, reportedly are on the cusp of reaching a deal to form a "broad coalition" in the country's parliament, Ukrainian media reported May 31. According to rumors, if the coalition deal can be formalized, the two key political figures will attempt to pass a law that would call for the next president to be elected by parliament and not in a national election, which is tentatively scheduled for January 2010.
Ukraine at its core is a fractured and divided country, caught between political forces vying for influence both domestically and from abroad. Within Ukraine's domestic political establishment there are three main parties that constantly form, break and re-form coalitions: the pro-Western Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense (OU-PSD) party, which is led by current president Viktor Yushchenko; the pro-Russian Party of Regions (PoR), led by Yanukovich; and the eponymous party (YuTB), led by Timoshenko, who's allegiance depends on the circumstances of the day. These three parties are largely mistrustful of one another and are more beholden to the personalities that drive them than they are to political principles. They have formed numerous coalitions since the Orange Revolution that swept Yushchenko into power, with two parties joining against the other in virtually all forms possible.
But this newest development is not about ganging up on Yushchenko again. Polls show he has less than 5 percent of public support, and he and his party are already considered a non-factor in any new government. Instead, this deal is all about Timoshenko and Yanukovich blocking the rise of new wildcards in the Ukrainian political system, represented by presidential hopefuls Arseny Yatseniuk and Volodimir Lytvyn. These two candidates (and especially Yatseniuk) have been gaining public popularity and have cut into the established political bases of Timoshenko and Yanukovich.
If PoR and YuTB are successful in forming a coalition, it is rumored that their first initiative will be to pass a law that would call for parliamentary elections of the president while scrapping the popular vote. This would essentially create a two-party system in Ukraine, since PoR and YuTB would have a majority in parliament. Yushchenko's party, as well as those of the rising stars, would effectively be cut out of any executive decision making, with Timoshenko, Yanukovich and their respective parties calling all the shots. (On a side note, this could actually create a more streamlined and direct system of governance, thereby stabilizing the political scene in Ukraine, which has been beholden to party infighting to the point of deadlock on all major issues facing the country.) Though the coalition and the parliamentary election law are two separate (and prospective) issues, they are part of a bigger plan to entrench PoR and YuTB in power.
However, there are several impediments to such a development taking place. First, a coherent two-party system has never before been seen in Ukraine. The decision for the president to be elected by parliament rather than by the people directly would be seen by the public as a huge grab for power, with the government effectively throwing out their vote (preliminary figures already show a 60 percent disapproval rating of this law). Second, the personality clash between Yanukovich and Timoshenko would not likely disappear, as previous coalition attempts between the two have shown. Contentious details would have to be worked out, such as who would serve as president and who would be the prime minister.
In the meantime, Russia is keeping a close eye on the situation and will do what it sees fit to strengthen its position in the country. Because Yanukovich and Timoshenko both have closer ties to Moscow than the overtly anti-Russian Yushchenko, the Kremlin will try to make sure that the two play nice for now to ensure that Ukraine can come back further into Moscow's fold.
These difficult realities aside, the coalition deal is being seriously discussed right now by the two leading political figures. Though it would be a risky move, Timoshenko and Yanukovich are hoping that their two parties in firm control would create a more stable political system in Ukraine and that this would be quickly and clearly evident to the public. Because of what could happen, the move certainly bears watching.
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.