By late 2005, the promises of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution appeared to have fallen flat on their face: President Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine party so far have failed to deliver on numerous promises made during his election; Ukraine today is not much closer to the European Union or NATO than in past years. And Yushchenko sacked his former Orange Revolution ally and prime minister Julia (pronounced “Yulia”) Timoshenko eight months ago over suspicions of corruption. Susequently Yushchenko and Julia had an apparent irreconcilable falling out.
Ukraine’s recent parliamentary elections witnessed Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions take the lead, but without enough seats to form a majority in the 450-seat parliament. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the parliament must form a coalition majority within 30 days of the new parliament starting work, and appoint a new government within 30 days after that. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party is looking weak: in the recent election it came in third, while Julia’s Bloc came in second.
Remember Yanukovich? He claimed to have won the presidency in 2004 as a successor to Leonid Kuchma, in what was likely a rigged election bolstered by neighboring Russia. The Orange Revolution changed this verdict, but Yushchenko’s Western-leaning government is in trouble. So Julia is back in the limelight, proposing to form a new alliance with Our Ukraine to keep the Party of Regions at bay. On her website, http://www.tymoshenko.com.ua/eng/index/, on April 7, 2006, she said, “A union between Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc would keep Ukraine enthusiastically on the road to Europe, with a possibly greater chance than last year to pass needed reforms. “ And Julia has also said publicly that she will not cooperate with Yanukovich.
Who is Julia, exactly? A very powerful and rich woman, for starters. After Ukrainian independence from the USSR, she became the enterprising owner of a video rental company. Soon after she rose very quickly in the energy industry – becoming known as the “gas princess,” and a Ukrainian oligarch. She has long-standing political ambitions, and to her credit, has survived imprisonment by Kuchma and at least one attempt on her life in the last several years.
What is she like? Silnaya! (Strong!) an elderly Ukrainian colleague of mine reported. She is certainly that, and drop-dead gorgeous by the way: in the words of one of my male colleagues – she’s a total babe. And a very smart one, too. This can be a very powerful combination of features if she chooses to use her talents wisely. Julia wants once again to be prime minister, and quite possibly Ukraine’s next president.
Her proposal for a coalition has not gone unheard. Senior members of Our Ukraine have approved an orange coalition and Yushchenko confirmed: “This is the beginning of discussions and it’s not a big secret that we are aiming to create an orange coalition.” But Julia will not agree to any coalition that does not return her to her former job of prime minister.
In the meantime Yanukovich’s popularity is rising. He has warned against the formation of an orange coalition in the country’s new parliament: playing on voters’ fears, on April 6 his party stated that a renewed orange coalition “will lead Ukraine into an abyss.” Such statements make for entertaining political drama. And although popular with pensioners and many residents of eastern Ukraine, Yanukovich would be too Soviet in his approach to governing and would hinder Ukraine’s path towards democracy and the free market. Ukraine should not be allowed to slip back further under Russia’s influence or bend backwards towards its Soviet past.
The final decision to form an orange coalition with Julia will be up to Yushchenko. But can he and Julia overcome their petty differences and bickering and lead Ukraine forward towards Europe and the West? The next few months may tell.