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Friday, April 06, 2007

Yushchenko Makes his Case

The Moscow Times reports a column by Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko (pictured after his poisoning by pro-Russia forces to block his rise to the presidency) in the Financial Times explaining why he has ordered the Ukrainian parliament to hold new elections. It boils down to this: He wants the people of Urkaine to decide whether Russia will control Ukraine or not, and his rival Victor Yanukovich wants the issue decided in smoke-filled rooms. Take a look at that picture. You can see what Yushchenko is prepared to risk for his country: His life. How about Yanukovich? Will he even risk an election?

The ultimate responsibility of my office is to uphold the constitution and ensure that political affairs are conducted in accordance with its principles. That has always been my overriding priority because Ukraine's acceptance as a normal European democracy depends on it. It is essential to the realization of our most important national goals.

Ukraine's young democracy today faces a new and dangerous challenge, one that requires a firm and immediate response. It comes from a ruling coalition that has exceeded its mandate and attempted to monopolize political power, even at the cost of violating the constitution and ignoring the democratically expressed wishes of the Ukrainian people.

Since the new government was formed last summer, I have repeatedly tried to persuade Viktor Yanukovych, the prime minister, to govern in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation. Instead, the ruling coalition has waged a relentless campaign to overturn both the constitutional balance of power and the results of the last parliamentary elections. This situation cannot persist. I have been left with no choice but to dissolve the parliament and to call a fresh round of parliamentary elections for May 27. It is an extreme measure, but it is clear to me that the Ukrainian national interest demands it.

In a democracy, the people must always be the final arbiters of power. Only by trusting in the wisdom of the Ukrainian people can we break this political deadlock and create the consensus necessary for our country to move forward again.

I make no apologies for trying to reach a broad political understanding in the difficult circumstances created by last year's parliamentary elections. As president, I saw it as my duty to put the long-term interests of Ukraine before personal preference or partisan advantage. I considered it an important test of our political maturity.

It is quite common in advanced democratic societies for elections to produce results that oblige political opponents to govern in partnership. Germany today is governed by a "grand coalition" of left and right. France has experienced periods of "cohabitation." The U.S. Constitution seems to invite it, with the White House and Congress occupied by different political parties more often than not.

Despite this, these societies remain stable, prosperous and well-governed. In each case the political elites understand that there is something more important at stake than the pursuit of political power. Respecting the wishes of their voters, they seek to share power in the national interest.

Of course ideas and policies are contested and debated, often in very robust terms. But all sides observe limits in order to prevent political competition from damaging the fabric of democratic life. When that becomes a risk, they choose compromise instead of confrontation. Above all, they respect their own constitutions and maintain the checks and balances essential to prevent monopolistic abuses of power.

It was in that spirit that I reached out to Mr. Yanukovych after it became clear that the Orange parties would not be able to form a majority coalition last summer. After everything that had happened before, no one should be in any doubt that it was a very difficult personal decision to make. But it was also one that I firmly believed to be in Ukraine's best interests.

As part of that process, I negotiated a declaration of national unity in order to bind the president and government to a common platform setting out coherent and realizable goals in line with the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. It was on the basis of that historic compromise that I hoped to consolidate Ukraine's democratic transformation.

It is with great regret that I have to say the spirit of reconciliation and compromise required to make that arrangement a success has not been reciprocated by the ruling coalition. They have consistently acted in bad faith. Instead of respecting the agreement to share power, they have sought to undermine it by grabbing more power for themselves at every opportunity and with every means available. Instead of respecting the wishes of the Ukrainian people expressed freely at the ballot box, they have used subterfuge to alter the parliamentary balance in an entirely undemocratic manner.

These are not the actions of responsible democrats. They reflect attitudes and behavior that the Ukrainian people had every reason to believe had been consigned to our past. Instead, it seems that we must fight and defeat them once again.

For me, this is a matter of supreme national importance. If Ukraine is to be recognized as an integral part of the community of European democracies, it is imperative that this crisis is resolved in line with our own constitutional principles. How can we be trusted to respect the rule of international law if we cannot respect the rule of law at home?

I hope Mr. Yanukovych will come to see that new elections are the only appropriate way to resolve this crisis. Genuine democrats should never fear the verdict of the people. Only those who remain stubbornly attached to the old ways should want our political future to be decided by intrigues and backroom deals. Ukraine needs to show that it has left all that behind.

Vedemosti analyzes the situation as follows, as also reported in the MT:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's proclivity toward compromise has led politicians and analysts alike to dismiss him as weak. Perhaps this helped prompt him to take a firm stand in ordering the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament.

The constant squabbling between Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and the parliament has created a situation of permanent political crisis. The current division of authority between the president and the government was supposed to make the system more democratic and effective. Instead, it has degenerated into a power vacuum. Everyone is interested in getting power rather than responsibly exercising it.

But we shouldn't be quick to compare the situation in Ukraine to that in Russia in 1993. There is little likelihood of the use of force here. The events of the Orange Revolution and the government's firing last year both passed without resorting to arms, and Yushchenko is willing to negotiate over just about anything. He is able to talk with Yanukovych reasonably and with his former comrade in arms, Yulia Tymoshenko, without accusing her of being a traitor. His chief goal is to maintain authority in order to carry out his own foreign policies.

The big word in Ukrainian politics of late has been "usurpation." But usurpation is not really the question -- it's more like the resumption of important negotiations in new conditions. Yushchenko is trying to convince the governing coalition and Yanukovych that their power is not unlimited.

Yushchenko's abrupt move may be based on a compromise with Tymoshenko. The popularity of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party is falling, and Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko might grab many more votes this time around, so the dissolution of the parliament works in her favor. This is important because the notorious bill the government introduced to strengthen its powers only overcame a presidential veto thanks to support from Tymoshenko's bloc. Helping the coalition usurp presidential powers only triggered Yushchenko's order to dissolve the parliament. Tymoshenko is in place to pick up more power as it falls from the hands of her competitors.

The Constitutional Court still has to decide whether the presidential order is constitutional. There are serious doubts whether the reason for the order -- the formation of a parliamentary majority on the basis of individual deputies rather than parties -- is sufficient. But without elections, the numbers will remain the same. Yanukovych cannot expect any more help from Tymoshenko, so there will be no way to override a presidential veto. This means returning to the negotiating table.

And that is where Yushchenko's willingness to seek compromises works in his favor.

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