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22 February, 2013  ▪  Milan Lielich,  Oleksandr Mykhelson

Game of Endurance

The Party of Regions` attempts to intimidate the opposition with early elections or responsibility for the breakdown of European integration have not given the desired result so far, so an escalation of resistance can be expected in the near future

The blocking of the Verkhovna Rada by opposition forces, demanding that MPs vote exclusively in person, is drawing to an end. Representatives of Batkivshchyna and Svoboda have joined UDAR, which has blocked the rostrum since 5 February, in expectation of its forceful unblocking. Moreover, the leader of the United Opposition, Arseniy Yatseniuk, has decided to attack and in response to the threat made by PR representatives of early elections using only the first-past-the-post system, stated that Batkivshchyna will also demand a new parliamentary election, but under an exclusively proportional system, with open lists as well as a simultaneous presidential election, in order to get out of the political situation, using the 1994 election as an example. Yatseniuk’s words can be seen as a bluff, since it’s doubtful that Batkivshchyna has the financial resources to cover an expensive election campaign. It is also obvious that the main addressee of Yatseniuk’s radical declarations is the opposition voter, after all, until now TV channels have only shown UDAR MPs, blocking the rostrum.

READ ALSO: A Crack in the United Opposition?

However, facts are facts: the opposition’s recent behaviour style signals that it has completely taken the initiative in parliament into its own hands and the loss of control in parliament by the Presidential Administration. The opposition is now also forcing the PR to backtrack on the issue of an early election. After the PR publicly threatened an early election, its inability to bring the situation to an electoral race has only once more confirmed that the government is not sure that it can improve its results, or even repeat existing ones. The very fact that a re-election is being held because of the government’s inability to control parliament would be a signal for politicians and society that the political process, which, since Yanukovych’s coming to power, has consistently led to him strengthening his own power, is now beginning to move in the opposite direction. Ultimately, this could end with the removal of the current regime. In such a situation, even with a mixed election system, but under conditions of a coordinated approach by the opposition at first-past-the-post constituencies, they could win a majority in the future parliament. Large-scale falsifications during a possible early election could provoke social mobilization, which until now was not expected until the presidential election in 2015. Instead, the Family will have significantly less preparation time.

In this context, the passivity of rank-and-file PR MPs is noteworthy. The desire of PR leaders to efficiently collect all available bayonets in parliament, initially for the forcible unblocking of the rostrum, and then – as an ace in trading with the opposition, has come across a lack of understanding and sometimes even blatant ignorance on the part of the PR’s “infantry”. They say that the leader of the faction, Oleksandr Yefremov has long assembled his MPs, either for discussions on storming the rostrum or directly for conducting such a storm, but has been unable to gather together an adequate number of warriors. As confirmed by sources in the PR, the reason for this is that the master of agreements and convictions, Andriy Klyuev, the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, has distanced himself completely from the election race, having passed on this role to Family member Serhiy Arbuzov. But few of the PR rank-and-file take the latter seriously. Some deputies do not attend meetings for various reasons – and most of them were elected in first-past-the-post constituencies. Indeed, the PR has fallen into a trap, which they themselves created with the mixed election system. Now, these MPs, for the most part businessmen who covered the cost of their election themselves – have no burning desire to swing their fists near the rostrum. According to the information of The Ukrainian Week, in an effort to win the loyalty of its MPs, PR leaders have promised to listen to their requests and applications, which are to be collected by the heads of seven informal groups in the PR faction and pass them on to the top.

READ ALSO: Taming the Oligarchy

In any case, PR MPs who have long insisted that they would not allow themselves to be spoken to in the language of ultimatums, have been forced to sit down at the negotiation table, which has resulted in the preparation of a “draft unblocking law”. It provides for the following changes to the Parliamentary Regulations: the cards of MPs that have not been registered prior to the beginning of the session should be blocked, and they themselves will be prevented from participating in several sessions; the same applies to MPs who vote on behalf of their absentee colleagues. Based on information obtained by The Ukrainian Week, the renewed work of parliament will be conducted in accordance with the following scenario: the ceremonial opening of the session, voting on the inclusion of the “draft unblocking law” to the agenda by means of the raising of hands, a break for its examination in the committee (which will hypothetically last no more than 20 minutes), voting for the draft law in its first reading and as a whole – also by the raising of hands. On the same day, the draft law is signed by Volodymyr Rybak, the Speaker and President Viktor Yanukovych. On the following day, it is published in Holos Ukrayiny (The Voice of Ukraine), and comes into effect. Parliament then begins it work in full volume.

However, on the evening of 20 February, at a joint press conference of opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatseniuk stated that “as of 14:00 the text of changes to the Regulations had been agreed between the government and the opposition, but as of 17:00, the PR had refused to support it”. One of the reasons for the change in this position was the arrival in parliament of Andriy Klyuev, who began “intrigues, directed towards dividing the opposition camp”. The negotiations reached a dead-end: for the first time since the beginning of the political crisis, the faction’s leaders did not coordinate even the time and month of the next meeting. The most likely reason: the PR has decided that it is the one that has now driven the opposition into a dead-end. On 20 February, the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration approved a draft parliamentary declaration “On the Realization of Ukraine’s European Integration Aspirations and the Conclusion of an Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU”, which the opposition has insisted on for a long time. Clearly, logic dictates that it should be approved prior to the summit, on 25 February. Thus, the PR is counting on the fact that either the opposition will be forced to unblock parliament in order to vote for this declaration, or it will undertake not to approve it.

One way or another, the surrender of their position on the issue of personal voting has once more demonstrated the hopelessness of the opposition in counteracting the Yanukovych regime’s offensive, which could have catastrophic consequences for its future.

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