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31 March, 2013  ▪  Oles Oleksiyenko

Keep Your Head Down!

While the opposition continues to announce its latest radical initiatives, the Yanukovych regime is strengthening its positions

The opposition is continuing to raise its level of resistance. In addition to the Rise Ukraine! campaign, id demanded the parliament to start considering the opposition-sponsored draft law on the impeachment of the President. Meanwhile, Arseniy Arseniuk announced the collection of 174 signatures from the opposition for the no-confidence vote against Mykola Azarov’s government and called on the Communists to support it. The latter, judging by Symonenko’s words, do not appear to have anything against this. Of course, efforts to promote the law on impeachment could lead to another blocking of parliament, in view of the fact that the Party of Regions (PR) is reluctant to consider the draft law now. In the meantime, the PR has already taken very convenient positions through the speaker, Volodymyr Rybak, who stated that top priority issues to be addressed during the coming sessions of the Verkhovna Rada, should be draft laws that are a mandatory part of preparations for the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU.

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The initiative on the no-confidence motion against Azarov can be seen in the context of preparations of his replacement by Serhiy Arbuzov. Such a scenario is possibly the easiest one for transferring full control of the government to a Family premier, after Yanukovych & Co failed to have the parliament vote for him. The opposition is possibly counting on support from Arbuzov’s potential supporters and the Communists to collect the 50 votes it still needs for parliament to declare its no-confidence in Mykola Azarov.

For the opposition, even such a scenario will be convenient, since it would aggravate conflict within the power conglomerate and political instability in Ukraine. However, this is only helpful if the opposition is ready to use this situation in its interests which is doubtful. In addition, the implementation of this scenario could mean that one group or another within the pro-government majority is confident of strengthening its positions, should the existing parliament stop working or is dissolved, and has an algorithm for achieving its goal.

While the opposition was trying to look persuasively decisive in its battle with the regime, the latter continued its equally persuasive advance towards authoritarianism. Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Volodymyr Makeyenko, notorious after pushing to strip Serhiy Vlasenko of his MP mandate, registered a draft resolution to increase the PR’s presence in several key VR committees by squeezing out opposition representatives. The committees include those for European integration, tax and customs policy, legislation on law enforcement, the VR procedures, environmental and health. Unless the opposition offers due resistance, the PR may take over more VR committees.

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In addition, last week it became clear that the Kyiv mayoral and city council election will probably be postponed until 2015. Signs emerge of deliberate delay in the allocation of re-elections in the five districts, where the CEC was unable to determine a result. As a result, they may be postponed until the party in power is sure that its candidates will win. At the same time, opposition candidates have faced increased pressure in the districts where the PR lost the 2012 parliamentary election. Arkadiy Kornatskiy, who ran Mykolayiv Oblast, and Viktor Romaniuk, who won against Tetiana Zasukha with a difference of 10,000 votes in District No. 94 of Kyiv Oblast, but was later stripped of his win by the decision of the local court, are in hiding abroad. On March 22, Romaniuk was arrested in Milan on the basis of Ukraine’s application to put him on Interpol’s wanted list. On March 26, the Shevchenkivsky District Court of Kyiv approved a decision on his detention as a preventive measure, to speed up extradition to Ukraine.

Most importantly, the government’s games around Kyiv mayoral and city council election and the re-election in the problem districts could signal that the government is testing the reaction of the opposition and society and preparing a scenario of postponing the parliamentary election if the parliament is dissolved and the party in power is uncertain about its ability to win a majority in the early parliamentary election. In the meantime, Mykola Azarov has begun to publicly promote the idea that elections are already taking place far too often, which is why the party in power is forced to constantly justify its inability to execute the lavish promises made during the previous election campaign. “These are the grounds for constitutional reform – to synchronise elections at all levels in such a way, that Ukraine has adequate time for stable work, and does not have to live on expectations from the next election campaign... Opposition representatives in the Verkhovna Rada feel free to express themselves offensively against the government and threaten it in a disdainful manner... This cannot be,” stated Azarov in a TV interview. This signals that those in the higher echelons of power no longer avoid public criticism of elections as a negative factor that hamper “reform”. The premier seems reluctant to realize that they are conducted in order to control the execution of at least most, if not all, responsibilities by a governing team.

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In this aspect, the government’s ever-more blatant disregard of the rights of MPs and mass media to have access to meetings of governing bodies is very notable. On March 13, 2013, the Cabinet of Ministers restricted the access of MPs to its meetings. On March18, the government’s meeting was cancelled because of the presence of two Svoboda MPs. While on March 27, Azarov authorized security guards to escort UDAR’s MP Serhiy Kalinin, who had the audacity to criticize the government for its poor liquidation of the consequences of the snow storm, from the meeting room of the Cabinet of Ministers. On March 22, representatives of mass media were not allowed to attend the session of the Cherkasy Oblast Council, and on the 26th – a meeting of the VR Budget Committee, at which the allocation of UAH 1.7bn was addressed. In a commentary for The Ukrainian Week, Batkivshchyna MP, Oleksandr Chornovolenko, who did attend the meeting, explained the reason for this: the largest amounts were allocated to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine – an additional UAH 209mn, the State Guard Service – UAH 48mn, the State Security Service – UAH 31mn, as well as Yanukovych’s hometown, Yenakievo – UAH 100mn (while Odesa Oblast only got UAH 19mn, Kherson Oblast – UAH 18mn, Poltava Oblast – UAH 13mn, Cherkasy Oblast – UAH 10mn and Chernivtsi Oblast – UAH 7mn). A further UAH 90mn was allocated among the districts of the MPs who approved this decision.

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Such behaviour of the regime demonstrates the growing insolence in its desire to usurp power and make any criticism impossible. In this context, some other telling signals are Azarov’s criticism of the mass media for not highlighting what they should, and promotion of the idea to punish people for both slander, which is most often a false statement damaging someone’s reputation, and defamation – a term to define a statement that damages one’s reputation but is most often based on true facts, by Deputy Prosecutor General, Renat Kuzmin. In other words, they propose criminal liability for the dissemination of not only untrue, but also true data, should it “defame the honour” or “compromise” an official, politician, government body or state institution. This can significantly improve Yanukovych’s chances, and with a creative approach, even lead to a coup d’etat with the complete usurpation of power, provided that the government can interpret any protests as the defamation of the president and launch the relevant criminal cases. Perhaps, this was why Viktor Yanukovych told the Internal Troops of Ukraine that their “adherence to principles in law enforcement... will determine the success of the reform we are implementing” at the celebration of their 21st anniversary.  

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