The Parliament inherited from Yanukovych holds an imminent threat to Ukraine, yet the breakup of pro-European coalition is potentially as dangerous
On July 24, parliamentary factions Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR and Oleh Tyahnybok-led Svoboda (Freedom) later joined by the group called Economic Development, mostly composed of former or present Party of Regions MPs and led by newly ex-Party of Regions MP Anatoliy Kinakh, and a number of Yulia Tymoshenko-led Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) MPs who aligned themselves with President Petro Poroshenko announced their exit from the ruling coalition of the Verkhovna Rada. This launched the month-long countdown to the day the president receives the right to dismiss the parliament and to announce early elections. Such a move prompted strong reaction from the rest of Batkivshchyna faction, whose MPs had hoped to safeguard this coalition and the parliament until the very last moment. Equally displeased was Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, who on that very day counted on the Rada to approve a number of important bills to do with financing state expenditure and modernization of the gas transportation system.
The key political players, as well as experts and journalists linked to them, inundated the media with arguments against and in favor of breaking up the coalition. However, one thing should be remembered: Baktivshchyna would always favor the delay of elections, expecting Poroshenko's support ratings to drop; in turn the president needed the elections to take place as soon as possible. But these are their private interests. As far as the interests of Ukraine are concerned, both delaying the early elections and announcing them in a hurry holds its dangers for the country.
On one hand, the postponement of the parliamentary election campaign until the spring of 2015, let alone the autumn of 2015 opens the door for reactionary forces to strike back, much like in the post-Orange Revolution 2006, or for reforming the majority around the ambiguously titled parliamentary group For Peace and Stability, which, according to reports in the media, is funded by the exiled former president Viktor Yanukovych and his associates. The latter scenario would result in worsening social and economic situation in the country, dramatic drop of the quality of life, unforeseeable problems during the winter heating season, weariness of the war in society, growing disenchantment of the public with the lack of drastic changes after the victory of the Maidan, and business conflicts within the coalition's two parliamentary groups made up primarily of representatives of the former Yanukovych's majority. To picture this entire situation one has to look no further than the winter of 2006.
Also when it comes to the risks of putting back the elections, The UkrainianWeek previously noted that Batkivshchyna’s expectation that the disappointed Poroshenko's voters would somehow come back to the ranks of its supporters is neither backed by opinion polls, nor the logic of Ukrainian political processes of the last couple of decades: in fact the voters disappointed in their idols never come back to them even after getting disappointed in the new ones, instead they tend to seek newer ones still. In this context the most recent sociology results, where the figurehead of Poroshenko's political project Solidarnist (Solidarity) is named, for example, Yuriy Lutsenko, is very telling. This has a simple explanation: Batkivshchyna is associated with the government and its unpopular moves at least as much, if not more than Poroshenko.
The pendulum effect is typical of all democratic systems, particularly in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that underwent similar transformations after the fall of communist dictatorships in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their experience vividly demonstrated that success came to those that reelected their parliaments immediately after dethroning the dictator, despite the fact that in many cases the former communists also tried to frantically adapt and pledge allegiance to the new course of their country, which is essentially what happened in Ukraine after the Maidan. It was the acquired strength in depth that allowed irreversible reforms in those countries, which the communists that returned to parliaments in the mid-1990s failed to negate. Meanwhile Ukraine has already stepped on the same rake twice, as by not reelecting the parliament in 1992 and 2005 it opened the doors for the revenge of reactionary forces in the elections of 1994 and 2006 and thus missed its opportunities for change.Should they postpone the parliamentary campaign, pro-European politicians would also risk facing growing passivity among their supporters as a result of general disappointment about “nothing changing after the revolution”. At the same time it would give time and opportunity for purely technical or disguised pro-Russian political projects to gather pace and mobilize the former supporters of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party of Ukraine. The current ratings of public support that show overwhelming dominance of pro-European forces do not account for the voters of the South-Eastern Ukraine, who at this point are either undecided or claim that they are not going to vote (they make 60-70% in the abovementioned area). Their participation in the elections in conjunction with other previously mentioned factors would dramatically increase the threat of revenge from the reactionary pro-Russian forces, which would be very much in-line with the dynamics of political pendulum.
The breakup of the current coalition poses considerable risks, however. The No.1 threat is that by the Independence Day (August 24) a pro-Russian majority For Peace and Stability may be formed, that will vote against the continuation of the anti-terrorist operation in the East, for the "normalization of relationships" with Russia based on the recognition of Russian control over Crimea and, quite possibly, for a Transnistria-like status for the Donbas, the pullout of Ukraine’s armed forces from the area, coupled with putting aside the Association Agreement with the EU or indefinite postponement of its ratification and the curtailing of cooperation with NATO and the United States. The ones that find such scenario unrealistic should once again look back at the events of 2006. Back then the idea of a ruling coalition without the Viktor Yushchenko-led Nasha Ukraina and the Block of Yulia Tymoshenko seemed utterly outlandish. But while the two forces were engaged in a political tug of war, an alternative coalition emerged, composed of the Party of Regions, the communists and the Socialist Party of Ukraine.
Today the opportunities to form a corrupt parliamentary majority are aplenty. Such a situation can cause another Maidan or cause Petro Poroshenko to dismiss the parliament in a much tougher manner (he would have a hard time finding the legal pretext). But all of this will spell another escalation of political conflict in the country, while Russia will get an extra opportunity to question the legitimacy of another change of government, appealing this time not only to “formal legitimacy until March 2015” of ex-president Yanukovych, but also a "Constitutional coalition in the Verkhovna Rada". Such a scenario could cause a great deal of trouble and the pro-European forces would have no one else to blame, as it was them who broke up the original coalition, albeit with good intentions. Hopefully, they have double-checked to make sure that there are not enough potential votes to form such a reactionary coalition in the current parliament, because once formed it will be very difficult to oppose.
Another risk is in having elections under the electoral system stipulated by the current law, which presents a 50/50 mix of majoritarian and proportional representation. The current convocation of Rada is unlikely to pass the law implementing fully proportional electoral system. First of all this is not in the best interest of the first-past-the-post-elected MPs and Party of Regions members that, when put together, represent the majority of the current parliament. Secondly, the motives of President Poroshenko are not completely clear. He may be tempted to take advantage of the first-past-the-post system in order to form a solid majority out of the traditionally conformist majoritarian MPs, instead of relying on unstable allies among other parliamentary political forces elected through the proportional system.
However, when applied in the parliamentary republic, the first-past-the-post electoral system may lead to unforeseeable political configurations, thriving political corruption and the lack of a stable majority in parliament. And after all, 225 first-past-the-post MPs make fertile ground for putting together an anti-Ukrainian coalition fueled by Russian money delivered via third party middle-men, of whom there may be plenty. In fact the existence of multiple middle-men, all interacting between groups in the Ukrainian parliament and the Kremlin as the core link in the chain, would only strengthen Putin’s position in the Verkhovna Rada and in Ukraine overall. This would give him the tools to conquer Ukraine from within.
There is little reason to expect that MPs nominated for the parliament with the support of Presidential Administration would remain faithful to the head of state throughout their term in the Rada. It was under the 1996 edition of the Constitution the president could dominate over first-past-the-post MPs and effectively keep the parliament under his control. The currently effective 2004 Constitution leaves no such opportunity to Petro Poroshenko. In fact, he has fewer tools to control the Rada than even Viktor Yushchenko had while dealing with a convocation elected fully under the proportional electoral system. Plus, it is yet unknown who exactly will nominate and supervise “his people” in the regions. Thus, the president’s team may end up infested with Moscow’s agents ready to come into play upon Putin’s command when right the moment arrives.
Which is why it is extremely important that the forthcoming elections take place under the proportional electoral system, ideally the open-list version of it. The latter part is unlikely to be in the best interest of the main political players, but the return to some kind of proportional system is a vital step.