|ISCIP Update |
News from the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy
Volume I, Number 1 (2 April 2007)
Yushchenko dissolves parliament, new elections May 27
by Tammy Lynch, Senior Fellow, ISCIP
On 2 April, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko signed a decree dissolving the country’s parliament and set new elections to the chamber for May 27.
If upheld by the Constitutional Court, the order signifies a strong return to political relevance for Yushchenko, who had become isolated and had seen his powers drastically reduced.
It also represents the continuing movement of Ukraine toward democratic norms based on Western standards of political pluralism and open debate.
The decree was triggered by the defection to the majority coalition of 11 parliamentary deputies loyal to the President. However, Ukraine has been engulfed in a political crisis for at least six months, thanks to an ongoing battle for control between Yushchenko and his former presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych, who is now (acting) prime minister.
In recent months, opposition activists have decried what they saw as a return to the oppressive tactics used prior to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. These included police investigations of political opponents, legal and physical pressure on the media, and alleged intimidation of parliamentary deputies to either change their factions or their vote. These tactics clearly went against Western norms. (Please see the latest ISCIP Analyst (http://www.bu.edu/iscip/news.html) for further details.)
On 31 March, approximately 70,000 people gathered on Ukraine Independence Square to protest such tactics and to call for President Yushchenko to dissolve parliament. At the same time, approximately 30,000 Yanukovych supports rallied in his support.
Notably, the decision signifies the rejection of advice from a number of Western leaders, who had urged the maintenance of stability. Responding to such calls, at the 31 March rally, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko asked, “What kind of stability do we want? The stability provided by a mafia?” Obviously, Yanukovych vigorously rejects those charges.
Yushchenko’s order is based on several points:
First, he objected to what he called the “unconstitutional process in the formation of the parliamentary majority coalition,” which, he said violated the mechanisms, articulated in Article 83 of the Constitution, regarding majority formation. Specifically, the president suggested that inclusion of individual deputies in the majority coalition violated the Article’s requirement that majorities only include full factions and that the majority be created within one month after the election.
Second, he suggested that a number of laws passed by the majority were themselves unconstitutional. In particular, he made note of the Law on the Cabinet, which removes powers granted to the president by the constitution and gives them to the Prime Minister; the Law was passed by a presidential override.
Finally, he accused the parliament of “political intrigue and fraud.”
The first point seems to have the most legal weight.
Two weeks ago, the previous majority created from Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party was dissolved and replaced with a so-called “National Unity Coalition,” made up not only of party factions, but also eleven defectors from the opposition ranks. Article 83 of the constitution does, in fact, specify that factions must create a coalition and that it must be created within 30 days of the first sitting of a new parliament.
The President appears to be leaning on Article 90 of the Constitution, which allows him to dissolve parliament if “there is a failure to form within one month a coalition of parliamentary factions in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine as provided for in Article 83 of this Constitution.”
Parliamentary Speaker Oleksandr Moroz and members of the ruling coalition now will appeal to the Constitutional Court, and given the often arbitrary rulings of most Ukrainian courts, its response is difficult to predict.
Nevertheless, Moroz, who was leading a special session of the parliament when the President’s decision was read, immediately announced that the majority did not recognize the President’s order, calling it “unconstitutional.” The parliament then voted (although it is unclear whether the vote is legal) to ask the Prosecutor General to examine the “unconstitutional decree” of the president.
Moreover, since the parliament votes to fund election preparation, it is unclear how the upcoming election will be organized.
In other words, much remains to be decided.
A visit to Moscow previously scheduled by President Yushchenko for 3 April has been postponed, and so far, Russia has not responded to the political crisis engulfing its neighbor. It is no secret, however, that Russian President Putin has far better relations with pro-Russian Yanukovych than with Yushchenko.
Prior to the order, a number of Party of Regions deputies had predicted violence if the president dissolved parliament. It is also clear that, although Yanukovych finds limited support in Western and Central Ukraine, he has significant support in the East of the country. These supporters likely will reject the President’s decree. Ukraine’s traditionally peaceful people and cautious politicians have a huge challenge ahead.