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Monday, July 03, 2006

Just the Three of Us
Together We Stand, Divided We Fall

Whew, they finally did it! Or did they? More likely than not, the Orange ones have mended fences, ending months of edgy negotiations that had the entire nation suffer from fatigue. ‘A stale sitcom whose characters outlive their popularity day by day’ would be the best synopsis for the BYuT-NSNU-SPU coalition talks. Both critics and supporters of the Orange coalition have spared no epithets in denouncing the way the talks were handled. Smelling a ‘divide and conquer’ opportunity, the Regionalists relentlessly pounced on the lack of chemistry in the Orange trio.

For those who grew up thinking the ‘Orange coalition’ was one word, a totally different emotional canvas unfurled itself. It felt like losing one’s religion — standing on the postelection sidelines, watching the three of them anxiously divvy up the political bacon. Somehow, the public pressure to perform brought them to their senses. By and large, they rose above the trench war of recriminations and retracted the hydraulics of last-minute demands. So much for the Hollywoodization of Yanukovych, the coalition-seeking desperado. In a classic winner-take-all arrangement, the Orange coalition now claims all the Oscars, a bitter truth which sets Mr. Yanukovych free to test his talent in an underground role. Yet, because his associates had expected nothing short of full reinstatement to the upper levels of government, they find it hard to accept a second-class role.

A minor flashpoint arose when SPU leader Oleksander Moroz suggested that the coalition would be better off if NSNU reconsiders its decision to nominate Petro Poroshenko for Speaker. This, he said, would help prevent a repeat of the tug of war between Poro and Tymo. Observers believe that the most likely alternative candidate, Anatoly Kinakh (NSNU), has the blessing of both the SPU and BYuT. Sensing an unwelcome advance into its private political territory, NSNU quickly responded that parties to the coalition had agreed on a no-veto policy.

Meanwhile, to prevent the coalition from ordaining either of these the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, the Regionalists have staged all-night vigils on its premises. In the daytime they resort to blockading the rostrum, effectively preventing the Rada from convening. Quite understandably, the third highest post in the country represents something of a holy grail to the Regionalists, who can’t bear the thought of excommunication from the high priesthood of government.

Also, at stake is chairmanship of key parliamentary committees. The Regions Party maintains that committee chairmanship should be allocated proportionate to the election results, which would entitle the Regionalists to as many as six committees, a sizeable chunk of the legislative machinery.

A procedural jihad ensued. The Orange ones insisted on an omnibus vote on Prime Minister and Speaker, while the Blue ones argued that the Constitution and the rules of order clearly prohibit such practice. Instead they are demanding a secret ballot, a view surprisingly shared by the SPU. (Rumor has it that undercover agents have approached shadowy starlets from the Orange camp with lavish pay-per-vote offers.)

NSNU has since dropped the omnibus preference and agreed to a roll-call vote, emphasizing the public’s right to know who’s who in the Ukrainian legislature.
Regardless of the current tussles, a healthy checks-and-balances system needs to be in place. Following this logic, President Yushchenko has already given the opposition the green light to run the Freedom of Speech Committee.

As of July 3, the situation showed no signs of improvement. The Blue ones, themselves hardly sterile of spin, carry on with their quarantine of the rostrum. So far, the round table talks initiative suggested by the Orange coalition in a bid to lift the stalemate — so that, through media coverage, society can hear both sides of the story — have elicited meager response from Yanukovych and Co. Instead, they pulled a no-show and sent word that their hit list has expanded — and quite dramatically so. It starts with the Vice Speaker’s seat, includes a vast array of positions in local governments, and demands that Constitutional Court Justices be appointed with the advice and consent of the Regions Party. On top of that, Yanukovych has urged President Yushchenko to join the talks and has insisted that they be held in closed-door mode. Until these conditions are met, he warned, the Regions Party will stay the course.

On Ukraine’s electoral map, the Regs hardly ever advanced to the other side, that is, beyond their home base in Southeastern Ukraine. The March parliamentary election proved just that. Under the therapy of American PR consultants, the double-F ‘Proffessor (sic) of Economics — that’s how the man had defined himself on the 2004 candidate application form — carried the tear-jerking torch for the Ukrainian economy amid record industry growth rates, roaring car sales and slight deflation.

Again, it’s the economy, stupid. In his campaign, Yanukovych made it clear that renegotiating a better gas deal with Russia would be his ‘comeback’ Cabinet’s top priority. He teased the public with his good standing in the Kremlin and deplored all the wreckage the 95/230 deal would bring for the economy. For some reason, with his dreamboat out of reach, he seems to have quietly abandoned his assessment as well, a classic yo-yo maneuver that fits the Regionalist ‘scorched economy’ policy.

The newly appointed US ambassador William Taylor has stated that Washington would back Ukraine’s renegotiation initiative, and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the would-be Premier, took the lead in promoting the idea.

Given the Regs’ spiteful propensity to act as termites to Ukrainian statehood, every time they fail their entry exams, they have little appeal in the bigger and less Russified part of the country. Their ‘ends justify the means’ philosophy goes way beyond 2004.

Initially, the March 2002 parliamentary election was hardly a windfall for Kuchma vassals. The pro-government ZaYedu and SDPU duo barely harvested 20 percent of the vote. (Actually, the one and only region where ZaYedu prevailed was Donbas.) What happened next merits the term ‘paranormal postelection activity.’ By threatening to expropriate their businesses through the bureaucratic coercion of so-called ‘adminresurs,’ the hallmark of the Kuchma regime, ZaYedu and the SDPU were able to round up independent MPs into a marionette majority. In this manmade twist of fate, NSNU and BYuT, which mustered up to 30 percent, discovered themselves in the ranks of the opposition. Later on, even some of their card-carrying fellow men were sighted off Kuchma’s ‘Cape Canaveral.’ The MP transfer business thrived; folks made fortunes for walking out on the opposition.

Under the weight of these memories, the Orange guys are more than willing to give the Blue guys a taste of their own medicine. Still, the focus should be elsewhere.

Of course, the Regionalists should learn to take no for an answer and quit asking for multitasking. The history of modern democracies provides few examples, if any, of parties that, within a single branch, combined both government and opposition tasks.

Democracy involves both upward and downward mobility. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. As long as contestants enjoy a level playing field, there’s nothing abnormal about losing two times in a row. What should be invented is some kind of consolation prize, a political pacifier that would help the Regionalists cope with their ADHD and would cushion them into an opposition role.

But, above all else, the Orange coalition has its own homework to do. The weary voters won’t stomach another false start and the road ahead requires talent and team play. Short of these performance drivers, nothing can defuse such choke points such as gas. Amending the budget to make an allowance for increased energy costs in the public sector remains a key agenda item. The trio should upgrade their crisis management skills before it’s too late. By all accounts, they can do better than they did in 2005.

Ukrainians should be able to make a decent living, without necessarily promoting their leaders’ families to the Forbes billionaires list. And remember: The only way to deal with the Regionalists is to speak with one voice.

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