Key parliamentary votes are due in Ukraine this week to finally resolve a long-running political crisis by setting the groundwork for early elections. But some fear even these steps won’t heal the ex-Soviet republic.
The two rivals in the power struggle, President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, agreed on Sunday to hold elections on September 30 but their deal hinges on parliamentary votes on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Once the votes are passed, Yushchenko is to formally set the election date.
“Agreement on the date is only the beginning of the end of the crisis and the vote in parliament will be its final point,” Vadim Karasyov, head of the Institute for Global Strategies in Kiev, told reporters.
An earlier agreement to resolve the crisis fell through last month.
The votes include parliamentary approval of financing for the elections and changes in the make-up of the central elections commission to allow greater representation for members of Yanukovych’s ruling Regions party.
Under the deal hammered out between the president and the prime minister, parliament is also due to approve a series of bills easing Ukraine’s bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Sharp differences may hinder elections
The two Viktors are still poles apart on many issues
Political analyst Kost Bondarenko said he did not expect the parliamentary to pass off smoothly as there are sharp differences between Yushchenko supporters and Yanukovych loyalists in the legislature.
Yushchenko has set WTO membership as a key goal for Ukraine but has faced opposition among Yanukovych allies in parliament on measures aimed at liberalising the economy.
Despite the show of unity by Yushchenko and Yanukovych on Sunday — the two even attended the Ukrainian Cup final together later in the day — tensions were barely below the surface.
“If the opposition fulfils all the conditions to allow the president to sign the order, then there will be early elections and as lawful citizens we will take part in them,” Yanukovych said in lukewarm comments about the deal.
His Regions party took the lion’s share of the vote in parliamentary elections last year and is expected to do well again in any upcoming elections.
President seen as a failure by many
Yushchenko has failed on his promises, some say
In the eyes of many Ukrainians, pro-Western Yushchenko has failed to live up to his promises of a bright economic future and international integration made during the Orange Revolution in 2004.
A poll by the Sofia research centre earlier this month gave the Regions party 41 percent of voting intentions. Another poll by the International Sociology Institute in Kiev gave it 35.5 percent. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party scored just 15.9 percent and 12.9 percent.
But, despite Yanukovych’s power, his coalition with the Socialist and Communist parties is fragile and faces a challenge from Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko, whose party is expected to come second.
In the Orange Revolution, mass street protests helped bring Yushchenko to the presidency and Tymoshenko to the prime minister’s post, overturning a flawed vote initially granted to his Moscow-backed rival Yanukovych.
Dissoultion of parliament led to troop build-up
Troops loyal to the president massed at the weekend
The latest political crisis between Yushchenko and Yanukovych began on April 2, when the prime minister defied orders from the president to dissolve parliament and hold early elections.
As the power struggle escalated, thousands of protestors held rival rallies in the capital Kiev and, last week, Yushchenko and Yanukovych ratcheted up the tension still further by sparring for control of security forces.
International powers, including Ukraine’s giant neighbours Russia and the European Union, have expressed concern at the crisis and urged both sides to refrain from any use of violence.