Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand 

In Ukraine, sometimes losing is winning, as long as you lose only by a little bit. Other times, losing really sucks.

The parliamentary elections that just concluded are now pretty well counted, and while the blue forces of former PM Viktor Yanukovych finished in first place, they look to be on the outside of a majority. Both his Party of Regions and the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc believe they've won. President Viktor Yushchenko's party finished a distant third.

But the key lies in one of the top two forming a coalition with Yushchenko's party plus one of the folks in fourth or fifth place. (Forget any idea of a grand coalition, even if it seems Yushchenko wants one. Tymoshenko will hear none of that.) Ukraine has proportional representation for seating deputies to its Rada or parliament, with a 3% threshold. With all but a handful of ballots counted unofficially, the Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz appears to have finished just below 3%. The recounting and ballot challenges and official certification should be fun.

That leaves two sources of the additional votes needed to create a coalition. One of them, the Communist Party, isn't likely to be in any possible combination. The other is the Lytvyn Bloc of Volodomyr Lytvyn, the former prime minister. He is signaling interest in a coalition with Tymoshenko and Yushchenko. Tymoshenko may be interested. Formation of that coalition would give those two a relatively stable majority, and Lytvyn a lot of power. LEvko wrote a note about Lytvyn last year; he's not well loved with the Yanukovych people. Yanukovych would need both Yushchenko's bloc and the Communists to form a coalition without Lytvyn if the Socialists are out, which is why the counting of the ballots is so important. There may be around 20 million votes, so changing the results from 2.87% to 3.00% doesn't take more than about 26,000 votes. In a country with a checkered past on voting irregularities, that's a real possibility.

But let's assume the vote count holds the Socialists out. If a coalition of Yuliya, Lytvyn and the president is there, why is the president flirting with Yanukovych? Here's my hunch. Yushchenko dismissed the parliament and called elections a few months ago, and Yanukovych -- whose party was in charge at the time -- decided to go to elections rather than fight whether Yushchenko had the right to do this. I do not think there's a gentlemen's agreement to re-form the Yush&Yanuk coalition between them, but if Yushchenko comes out too quickly for a coalition with the Tymoshenko bloc -- say, before the certification of the election -- the blue forces could make life difficult for the Orange by claiming the vote was illegal. In short, they'd go back to these charges that were made throughout the summer until the elections were called and agreed. Rather than put up with that, Yushchenko may be trying to play both sides ... and no doubt being sure his own situation is secured. The constitutional arrangement between the Rada and the executive branch is still to be decided.

Whichever of these coalitions form, they should take the time to read Edward Hugh's analysis of the challenges Ukraine faces.