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Opinion > Rapid Reaction

Three moves towards checkmate

On December 1, 2004, three interesting moves took place in Ukraine: The Central Electoral Committee and Mr. Yanukovych separately declared that the results of the run-off election were, after all, incorrect, and that the vote should be declared invalid. The Verkhovna Rada fired the Yanukovych Government. Pora, a civil liberties group, arrested two snow trucks and a woman with a briefcase leaving the Presidential Administration on vul. Bankova.

The situation in Ukraine is like a cutthroat chess game where some key pieces are invisible and White can withdraw any move after the fact, without Black having a corresponding right to withdraw its countermoves. The Russian imperial court was nothing if not utterly byzantine in its machinations, and this is the system Lenin and Stalin re-tooled and handed down to Ukraine's and Russia's current power-brokers. This is what keeps western political analysts, and those on the ground here, hopping half-blind, trying to guess what the next maneouver will be and why.

Why the about-face on the part of the premier, who had so far declared absolute confidence in the officially-announced election results? Why the about-face on the part of the CEC, which also stood by its decision until now? One possible answer can be found in Ukraine's Supreme Court. The process going on in their tiny chambers may not be at the aloof level of professionalism of mature rule-of-law countries, but the truth is clearly being soughtSand found. Draped in maroon, the civil judges, who are all lifetime appointees, appear to be taking this momentous decision seriously. They have already accused the Yanukovych lawyers of delay tactics. For them, the possibility of working as qualified men and women in the highest court of the land without constant political interference is undoubtedly very motivating. More specifically, the weight of evidence is such that there was systematic, massive interference in the election process. There is also reason to suspect that an honest re-run may be hard to secure without enormous costs, legal changes and efforts that might not be mobilized within the timeframe needed to keep the country's economy from going into a tailspin. If the preponderance of evidence shows that falsification affected the election even half as much as the Committee of Voters of Ukraine claims-2.8 million faked ballots or 10%-, then Mr. Yushchenko can be automatically declared the rightful winner with a comfortable 2% lead over his rival. Hence, the sudden flurry of castling.

How legitimate is the Verkhovna Rada's decision, squeaked in at 228, only two votes to spare, to fire the Yanukovych Cabinet and will Mr. Kuchma, as president, sign off? According to the Constitution, the Rada did absolutely right. It first withdrew its support from the Government's program, the basis for the premier's current year-long immunity from non-confidence votes. It then passed a vote of non-confidence in the Government. Mr. Kuchma should sign off, but his signature is not mandatory, according to the Constitution. Hence his furious, dismissive response to the vote. Mr. Yanukovych and his ministers are history. But not only have they been sent packing.

This move has politically killed a key group of pawns who would be king-makers: the Communist Party of Ukraine. With a single prominent exception-respected poet Borys Oliynyk-the CPU was noticeable by its absence in the legislature Dec. 1, along with most of the pro-Administration factions. As deputy Borys Bezpaliy put it, "Yesterday, the Communist Party completed its journey from Lenin to Yanukovych." The two groups are left ranting and raving about the dreadful pressure the opposition was putting on deputies when the crucial vote came up.

The only pressure going on, in fact, was Mr. Yanukovych's right-hand man, Andriy Kluyev, and other members of the premier's party, who were terrorizing deputies in the VR hallways. Why? Because the Verkhovna Rada had agreed to vote on this critical decision by secret ballot. No lawmakers' names would be registered, and no factions. With the possibility of retribution removed, the Rada tossed the Government out. The pawns have become queens.

In Ukraine, the political board is very much tilted in favor of White. It starts out with the equivalent two queens: the President has enormous powers himself, and he also appoints the governors of all 24 oblasts of Ukraine. Black has mostly pawns, a single queen (the Verkhovna Rada) and a few knights (locally elected mayors and elected radas or councils at all levels). This is the reason for the decentralized moves seen in Ukraine in response to calls for separatism: not being Kyiv appointees, local radas and mayors are a better barometer of local sentiment. So when the governors began to scream for autonomy, the City of Kharkiv immediately distanced itself from the seditious move. Over the last few days, more and more eastern and southern cities and oblast radas have done likewise and their prosecutors have stepped into the breach as well.

Lack of devolution of power is a key problem with Ukraine's political system today and, incidentally, what Mr. Putin wants to revert to in Russia. With oblast governors and county clerks currently all appointed by Ukraine's president, the general consensus has been that the separatist ploy was all part of a Kuchma scenario (with Mr. Putin's support). This is where constitutional reform is so critical in Ukraine. One party like SDPU (o) or Regiony could never place its people in all regions and at all levels, including head physicians of local hospitals and middle management of Ukrtelecom, if not for the current system. Moreover, it is this totally corrupt and incompetent system that Ukrainians are now fighting to bring down.

So, the city councils and other elected groups are not so much supporting the opposition or Mr. Yushchenko personally, as they are responding to death threats (separatism, authoritarianism) on the part of those (oblast governors, oligarchs) who not only do not represent the local electorate, but who are deeply despised for being brutal racketeers. Local elected officials are effectively supporting greater democracy. And this is having its snowball effect, like the Great Pomarancia (Orange). As more Ukrainians realize it's not so dangerous to come out and stand up against the old regime, more of them are get up the courage to do so.

What relevance is the activity of a group of students painted by the current regime as crypto-terrorists? When the young men from Pora stopped snow trucks coming out of the Presidential Administration, they smelled a rat. Sure enough, buried in the snow were originals of election documents. A couple of lawmakers swiftly gathered all the soggy documents up, to take to the Supreme Court hearing. Buried in the briefcase of the woman scurrying out of the building were, apparently, hundreds of thousands in cash, both hryvnia and dollars.

As Socialist Yushchenko ally Yuriy Lutsenko put it at the beginning of the Orange Revolution, "Rats and cockroaches hate the light. It's our task to shine the brightest possible light on what is happening." Dirty chess is also harder to play in the light of day.

Published on 06/07/2005

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  L. A. Wolanskyj

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