As government takes half-step, opposition marks time
Ukrainian politics more and more resembles a show. Some pretend to be carrying out reforms, others to be fighting against the regime. At least it looks so from the outside. The attempt of the opposition to convene an extraordinary parliamentary session because the Prosecutor General’s Office accused Yulia Tymoshenko of being implicated in the murder of MP Yevhen Shcherban resulted in the opposition factions gathering in parliament on January 31. They took a no-confidence vote… and went home.
OPPOSITIONISTS “SAT IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT” A LITTLE
Naturally, the government did its best (it has all the instruments for such an occasion) to show inability of the opposition to organize a session. Speaker Rybak first said that the opposition had forged a certain number of signatures for convening a special session, then that it would take parliament a pretty penny, and, finally, that it was no use gathering because the regular session was just a few days away, on February 5. As a result, the government ignored the opposition’s demand. There were no “Regionnaires” in the room. Conversely, according to Verkhovna Rada Deputy Speaker Ruslan Koshulynsky, who presided over the meeting, there were 158 oppositionists (including some independents) present. Yet parliament’s official website says that the total strength of the three opposition factions is 177. Where were the rest?
“Taking into account the number of members in the three parliamentary factions and lack of seats in the conference hall, Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Rybak decided, as an exception, to allow holding this meeting in the plenary session room on 5, Hrushevsky Street,” parliament’s press service reports.
Society could see long ago what the current government is and what methods it applies. But, as the opposition is concerned, there were and perhaps still are some hopes that it will become an alternative to the existing leadership (even though The Day highlighted the staff selection problem as early as when the opposition, first of all, Fatherland, was drawing up their election lists). This caused the appearance of two new political parties – UDAR and Freedom – in parliament.
“I am surprised that it was the UDAR, not the Fatherland, faction that called for a special session,” Serhii Mishchenko, former BYuT member and now an independent MP, says in korrespondent.net blog. “It took me five days to find the right person to affix signatures. As I see it, that person was making the rounds of parliamentary clerks in search of signature sheets. It makes me laugh! Both sides are using ridiculous argumentation. The opposition should have demanded that Speaker Rybak confirm documentarily, not in words only, which signatures he called into question and what information MP Vladyslav Lukianov used when he said he had proof that 11 MPs were abroad. It was a duty of the opposition. They should have blocked the speaker’s office room and stay there until he convened a session. It just looks now like a farce and a show for voters.”
“We demanded, both in public and during our direct contacts with the Verkhovna Rada leadership, to be shown the proof that the signatures were forged, “UDAR MP Rostyslav Pavlenko comments. “But we were shown nothing, and we strongly suspect that there is no proof at all. It is very likely that a command was given from above. Speaking to the opposition-delegated group, Rybak made it clear that he could not have behaved otherwise. This is a violation of regulations, and a speaker like this should resign his office. On Monday we will raise the question of putting a number of initiatives on the agenda. There is a special clause in the regulations about the expression of no confidence in the Verkhovna Rada speaker and the prosecutor general. In particular, we will insist that the question of calling them to account be put to a vote.”
As it was a meeting of their own, the oppositional MPs were at last free to speak to the fullest. Fatherland faction leader Arsenii Yatseniuk called for obstructing parliament until the Rada 3 system was brought into action. UDAR will do its best for parliament to work lawfully – otherwise it will not work at all, UDAR’s MP Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said. “Our main demand is that whoever has obtained a mandate and is paid salary at the Verkhovna Rada should vote in person and be present at sessions, instead of lying to people,” he emphasized. In his turn, the Freedom faction leader, Oleh Tiahnybok, again called for speaking Ukrainian on the parliamentary premises. He also said that if the parliamentary majority was unwilling to work, a fresh election should be held.
As a result, the three opposition factions unanimously resolved to pass a vote of no confidence in Speaker Rybak and launch the procedure of removing him from office due to unsatisfactory performance and gross violation of the Constitution of Ukraine (152 signatures have already been collected); to express no confidence in Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and top officials of the law-enforcement bodies that carry out political reprisals in Ukraine; to demand that all the political prisoners be freed and, in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yurii Lutsenko, be given adequate medical treatment; and to demand that an ad hoc commission be established to inquire into the facts of pressure on oppositional members of parliament.
These are the right words in general. For example, it is good that the opposition is adamantly calling for in-person voting. But, although there was a warm atmosphere in the room, you still feel cold. For, as you know all the background, you do not much believe in words and can feel a bad taste left in your mouth. At the last session, the opposition was just unable or did not want to mobilize all its MPs for voting to decriminalize the “Tymoshenko articles.” Even some “Regionnaires” voted in favor of this, while over 20 Fatherland members failed to show up. How are they going to have these demands met?
“What the opposition is doing can be called making the same blunders. The more silly mistakes you make, the greater oppositionist you are,” independent MP Viktor Baloha writes on his Facebook page. “‘Free Yulia!’ must, of course, remain a major, but not the only, slogan of the opposition. It is also the opposition’s job to keep watch on the government and offer an alternative. We can see so far that they are badly coping with the former and are not doing the latter at all. So who do they think is to blame?”
GONGADZE-PODOLSKY CASE – A TEST
While practically all the media focus these days on the Gongadze-Podolsky case and discuss the sentence (life imprisonment) on Oleksii Pukach, the chief perpetrator of the crimes, the opposition factions show no reaction. Those who have reacted are experts, journalists, and some Ukrainian politicians, including a special OSCE representative. Even the US government reacted last Thursday. “This is a welcome development [conviction of Pukach. – Ed.], and we hope that the Ukrainian authorities will continue to pursue this case in order to bring to justice those responsible for ordering Mr. Gongadze’s abduction and murder. The US Government will continue to support journalists everywhere who work to inform the public and expose corruption and injustice,” the statement says.
Maybe, the opposition believes, as the ICTV channel does, that the words of Pukach about the complicity of former president Leonid Kuchma and MP Volodymyr Lytvyn in the beating of Podolsky and the murder of Gongadze are too emotional? Incidentally, the other TV channels that belong to the ex-president’s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk – STB and New Channel – also failed to mention the names of Kuchma and Lytvyn in their news bulletins.
Let us speak on this subject with parliamentary opposition members.
“What can be the official attitude to the conviction of Pukach?” Fatherland MP Andrii Pavlovsky comments. “It is clear to every sensible person that he [Pukach. – Ed.] obeyed the orders of the then leadership of this country. A police general could not have dared to do this on his own. The topmost political leaders gave instructions through interior minister Kravchenko, and Pukach followed them. Naturally, this case should continue to be pursued, and the instigators, not only the perpetrators, must be punished. Why is there no reaction from the opposition? I can phone the spokesperson, and a statement to this effect will come out in half an hour if it is so critical that Fatherland should explain its position.”
“Pukach owned up to being a perpetrator and named those who ordered the crime,” Freedom MP Andrii Mokhnyk says. “Yet the court handed down this ruling in the interests of the current regime. The government showed that it had done something in this case and, on the other hand, got an opportunity to keep in suspense the people Pukach named – Lytvyn, Kuchma, and, as Melnychenko added, Pinchuk. The regime is using the Gongadze case to finally pressure some people into giving up the resources they have.”
“Obviously, the question of punishing the true Gongadze case masterminds will be considered after the change of leadership,” Rostyslav Pavlenko says, “Convicting Pukach is the final point in the longtime practice of bringing perpetrators to justice. But it is very unlikely that this government will pursue the case to the end.”
Having convicted Pukach, the leadership took a serious step, or at least a half-step, in the Gongadze case (which, incidentally, society never saw done during the presidency of Yushchenko). And what did the opposition do (now and when it was in power), what did it help with? In spite of some correct words in comments, the absence of a timely reaction shows that the opposition is unable to embrace the entire range of sociopolitical events in this country. In this particular instance, it cannot or, which is still worse, does not want to understand that the incomplete Gongadze case is having a very negative effect on society.
Also present at last Thursday’s opposition meeting was the independent MP Oles Donii. He harshly criticized the opposition from the podium. “The opposition movement is doomed to failure in its current condition,” he said. Donii suggested establishing People’s Council, a non-party association. “How long have I been saying that the People’s Council is necessary? The MPs in opposition pretend not to hear me… Faction leaders are not much interested in this because this not only attracts independent deputies, but also tests the clout of every deputy. I can see very odd things happening at present – it looks sometimes like playing at giveaway. I think there is only one way for the opposition forces to defeat this regime – it is unity and catharsis,” he said.
Arsenii Yatseniuk said in parliament last Thursday: “We fail to play in a well-mannered opposition with the Party of Regions.” Indeed, it is undesirable in general to play with the Party of Regions, all the more so in a well-mannered opposition. In the current conditions, society should see an active opposition. Does it see one? It does partially. Why? We said it above. Should things continue to be like this, the opposite will stand slim chances in 2015.”