What now after Yuschenko?
by Jan Maksymiuk
Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko is gone. What now?
One answer to this question suggests itself almost automatically: more political turmoil in Ukraine. Irrespective of what form it may take, it will surely not benefit the country's economy.
The best scenario for the country would be the appointment of a "technical prime minister" with no political ambitions, an administrator who would only look after the economy and prevent it from sliding into chaos until next year's parliamentary elections, which are generally expected to structure both the Parliament and society to a far greater degree than they are now.
One of the bleakest scenarios would be the installation of a Communist (or someone like Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalia Vitrenko) in the post of prime minister and to subject Ukraine to a situation similar to the malady afflicting Belarus - self-isolation from the West and reintegration with Russia. But, for some reason, Ukrainian commentators and analysts exclude the possibility of a Communist being named prime minister from their various scenarios of future developments.
When 263 lawmakers voted on April 26 to oust Mr. Yuschenko for what they say was the government's unsatisfactory performance in 2000, there were few commentators in Ukraine or abroad who took this official explanation at face value.
Indeed, under the Yuschenko Cabinet Ukraine posted its first post-Soviet economic growth, restructured a total of $2.6 billion of commercial debt, stabilized the hryvnia, launched the privatization of collective farms, increased pensions by 40 percent and, according to official reports, increased real incomes by some 6 percent. It should be noted that all of this was achieved without resorting to external loans. Even if some parameters of the "Reforms for Prosperity" program were not met by the Yuschenko Cabinet, its term was in no way a complete failure.
As regards the ulterior motives for Mr. Yuschenko's dismissal, many commentators say Ukraine's oligarchic parties - the Social Democratic Party (United), the Democratic Union and the Labor Ukraine bloc - want to take over the helm of power jointly with the Communist Party in order to better position themselves for next year's parliamentary elections.
Some also believe Mr. Yuschenko's ouster was orchestrated by President Leonid Kuchma, who resented the prime minister's growing popularity among Ukrainians and, in addition, had long wanted to divert the public attention he attracted from the tape scandal implicating him in the murder of journalist Heorhii Gongadze. If this second supposition is true, then Mr. Kuchma may have seriously miscalculated.
On the day Mr. Yuschenko was dismissed, another important vote took place in the Ukrainian Parliament: 209 lawmakers voted to put President Kuchma's impeachment on the parliamentary agenda (only 17 votes short of the required majority to launch a debate on the issue). The measure was supported by the Communist Party, the Fatherland Party, Rukh and Solidarity (the oligarchic parties did not back that measure). But it was certainly a clear warning to Mr. Kuchma: should he try to significantly impede the Communist-oligarchic takeover in Ukraine, it would be no problem to muster the 226 votes needed to put the impeachment issue on the agenda.
Such a development, coupled with former Vice Prime Minister Tymoshenko's powerful push to organize an anti-Kuchma referendum, would make the president position extremely shaky, to the point that his pre-term exit would suddenly cease to be just a theoretical issue in the country.
If President Kuchma understood the hint that lay in the impeachment debate vote, then he should propose a candidate to head the government who will be accepted primarily by the oligarchs. But even such a move will not secure his future. If the Communists accept the leadership of the Parliament as their reward for helping the oligarchs oust Mr. Yuschenko, then an oligarchic Cabinet may try to get rid of President Kuchma with more powerful levers than a parliamentary vote.
Mr. Yuschenko's future seems unclear as well. Many admit that, by sticking to his political principles and refusing to bargain with oligarchic parties over his dismissal, Mr. Yuschenko has developed a political personality and now has a good chance to remain in the spotlight of politics for a long time - and even to run for president.
But as of now he has neither clear political allies nor leverage in the media (the state-controlled media work for President Kuchma, while private ones work for various oligarchs). Mr. Yuschenko has announced that he does not want to be linked to any specific opposition party, but will try to build a broad, nationwide coalition of reformist forces - a prudent statement by someone who aspires to become the president of all Ukrainians. But, in actual fact, for the time being he can count only on the support of the opposition groups united in the Forum for National Salvation and the For Truth civic initiative. And these groups have so far been successfully marginalized by the state media and administration.
It is highly probable that in the near future we will be witnessing the competition of no less than four significant forces in the political arena in Ukraine: the pro-Kuchma administration; the oligarchs; the anti-Kuchma opposition, in an alliance with Mr. Yuschenko's "broad reformist coalition"; and the Communists, who are unlikely to remain for long in the current situational alliance with the oligarchs.
By all appearances, the impending political turmoil is set to be far greater than that provoked in the past by several standoffs between the president and the Parliament.
Jan Maksymiuk is the Belarus, Ukraine and Poland specialist on the staff of RFE/RL Newsline.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, May 13, 2001, No. 19, Vol. LXIX
| Home Page |