October 9th, 2008 21:49 EST
Ukraine's Future Suspended in the Political Vacuum
It will be a hot winter for Ukrainians. In his televised speech on Tuesday, President Viktor Yushchenko told his countrymen that he had dissolved the parliament and called for a snap election. Again. For the third time in as many years Ukraine`s future has been suspended in the political vacuum.
The government fell apart on September 16, 2008. The ruling coalition formed by the president`s center-right block and the populist party of Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister and Yushchenko`s ally-turned-nemesis, collapsed over personal ambitions of its leaders. "I`m convinced, deeply convinced that the democratic coalition was ruined by one thing alone - human ambition," said the president in his address. The government did not survive even a year, repeating the history of the previous cabinet, which ended its life after only eighteen months in power.
Now arch rivals, Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko used to be a pair of inseparable political friends. In 2004, together they engaged hundreds of thousands of people in the Orange Revolution that toppled the Moscow-backed government, giving Ukraine free elections for the first time in 14 years of its independence. According to an unwritten deal, Mr. Yushchenko was elected the president and appointed Ms. Tymoshenko prime minister. And the trouble began.
Safe in his presidential palace, Mr. Yushchenko focused on diplomacy while leaving Ms. Tymoshenko a free hand in domestic affairs. This was in February 2005. By September of the same year, the two had veered in two opposite directions, accusing each other of corruption and political incompetence. The new parliamentary election, held in March 2006, was won by the party of Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian strongman whose ascension to power was hobbled by the Orange Revolution. This U-turn in Ukraine`s politics again allied Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko that managed to win another election, this time in September 2007.
The temporary alliance of the democratic forces could not last for long. Both sides had harbored deep resentments towards each other, dating from the times of the Orange Revolution. Moreover, while the president strove to tighten ties with NATO and the European Union, the prime minister began to flirt with Moscow. When Mr. Yushchenko joined the leaders of Poland and the Baltic States in their harsh critic of the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, Ms. Tymoshenko allowed the Kremlin-controlled companies to enter Ukraine in exchange for cheaper natural gas and fuel prices.
The culmination of the conflict between the president and prime minister came in September. To the surprise of Mr. Yushchenko and his western partners, Ms. Tymoshenko pieced together an unofficial coalition with the Communists and Mr. Yanukovych`s party and stripped the office of president of some of its main prerogatives. The move led to the withdrawing of Mr. Yushchenko`s party from the government. "I officially declare the coalition of democratic forces...in Ukraine`s parliament dissolved," said the parliament speaker on September 16.
The president scheduled the new election for December 7. It leaves two months for Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko to try to convince Ukrainians to give them yet another chance. But the prospect of five more years with the democratic but quarrelsome and unstable coalition may easily put off many voters. Instead, autocratic but predictable Viktor Yanukovych may snatch the victory. The upcoming election will decide whether Ukraine will solidify its presence in western institutions or return to Russia`s sphere of influence.
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