Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk of Ukraine announced his government’s resignation on July 24 after two of the three coalition partners, the Udar Party of Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kiev, and the nationalist Svoboda, withdrew from the ruling coalition. Yatseniuk represents the Fatherland party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who ran unsuccessfully for president in May.
While the collapse of the government might sound like a step toward more political conflict, it need not be. The key issue in Ukraine’s current domestic politics is to hold early parliamentary elections this fall. The Ukrainian constitution allows such elections in a few cases, and the most convenient justification is that no governing coalition has existed for 30 days. If that happens, President Petro Poroshenko is entitled to call early elections within 60 days.
It has long been rumored that the coalition would break up this week before this session of parliament ends. Presumably no political forces can form a new coalition, given that the old coalition partners retain a tenuous parliamentary majority. Poroshenko should now announce the dissolution of parliament in late August. If he does so, the anticipated date of the elections would be Sunday, October 26.
As I have argued earlier, Ukraine needs early parliamentary elections to clear the way for necessary economic and political reforms. The last elections in October 2012 were the dirtiest in more than two decades of Ukraine’s independence, and the old parliament appeared particularly corrupt. The political mood has changed with the Euromaidan, which should be reflected in the parliament. Moreover, a broad consensus favors fully proportional elections that are not so easily manipulated.
But can Ukraine afford not having a parliament in the midst of the Russian aggression in Donbas? Yes. The president, who would be unaffected by the political campaigning for parliament, is responsible for national security. Yatseniuk is being replaced as caretaker prime minister by one of his deputies, 36-year-old Volodymyr Groisman, who happens to have been mayor in Poroshenko’s hometown of Vinnytsia for eight years.
Still, Yatseniuk departed with a bitter statement: “The coalition has fallen apart, laws haven’t been voted on, soldiers can’t be paid, there’s no money to buy rifles, there’s no possibility to store up gas.” He claimed that Udar and Svoboda, the parties that left the coalition, refused to take responsibility for unpopular decisions, notably gas price hikes, required by the IMF in order to release the next $1.4 billion tranche of its $17 billion two-year standby loan for Ukraine. Yet Yatseniuk’s stint of four months as prime minister is likely to be remembered as the most productive and successful period of legislation in Ukraine to date.
His criticism may be valid, and we might see even more party posturing before the October elections, but the voting will be only three months away. Three weeks ago, Yatseniuk complained that two dozen vital legal acts had been rejected by lawmakers. In an unusual arrangement, the Ukrainian parliament is entitled to continue legislating after it has been dissolved.
Many questions remain open if an election is called. The party structure is likely to change substantially. Opinion polls suggest a very fluid political situation, but the Euromaidan parties that forced Yanukovych’s ouster earlier this year are likely to win a big majority.