Grand coalition deal in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and the man he defeated in the wake of the Orange Revolution of late 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, yesterday signed a Declaration of National Unity. The expected government will contain the parties led by the two men, plus the Socialists. Yanukovych will be prime minister. The three parties won a combined 299 seats in elections for the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada on 26 March.

The Communists, who have 21 seats, probably will be excluded. They were essential to a majority for any Yanukovych-led coalition that excluded Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party, but would be superfluous now.

This is a far better outcome than the one that had looked imminent till yesterday, by which the coalition would have been Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, the Socialists, and the Communists. Such a combination never seemed likely, because of internal policy contradictions and also because the presidential veto power retained in Ukraine’s reformed constitution means that a cabinet not including the president’s party is potentially stymied in taking any initiative. Yet it was on the brink of forcing Yushchenko’s hand (given that the initiative in forming a government rests with whatever coalition of parliamentary parties forms).

In the final analysis, the proposed Regions-Socialist-Communist coalition was clever brinksmanship by Yanukovych and Socialist leader Oleskander Moroz. Once Yushchenko and his first prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko–whose party rather embrassed Yushchenko’s in the parliamentary elections in March–could not agree, Moroz played his “Regions” card. He and Yanukovych thus come out as the big winners.

Given the divisions in Ukraine, a grand coalition is a good outcome. The coalition will be exactly one seat short of the two thirds needed to pass constitutional reforms. Given that none of these parties is really a programmatic party in the West European sense, the coalition probably will not have anything close to perfect party discipline.

In other words, Tymoshenko, who will be leader of the opposition, may find herself a player on matters that require amending the constitution.

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