This state of affairs was triggered by President Viktor Yushchenko's decision to disband the country's parliament, the Supreme Rada. In both its motivation and phrasing, his decree goes beyond the limits of presidential authority and violates a number of constitutional rules.
A political war is now erupting between the parliament and the president, who has lined up with the radical opposition. I think Yushchenko's step is acceptable only in the eyes of some of the opposition elite, those that favor development of crises. The authors of the decree, which is politically motivated and too contradictory, used double logic, allowing for an early presidential vote as well as early parliamentary elections. The president is again being told to ignore the constitution.
For opposition leaders, early elections are quite acceptable. At any rate, two leading players from the so-called National Salvation Committee - Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of one of the main opposition parties, and Yury Lutsenko, the former minister of internal affairs - intend to run for president. The reason why the current president has become a hostage to fortune and adopted a psychological ultimatum is easy to explain. He is a person whose spine has been broken. The media and opposition are spreading the story that dissolving parliament was Yushchenko's moral and political choice. To my mind, the choice was not his.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Rada and the Cabinet (which met until the wee hours) passed a series of key decisions the night before. They all call the decree unconstitutional. And this means that the legislative and executive branches are in the saddle. The Rada is continuing its session and has already heard statements from all parliamentary parties. The parliamentary majority coalition has voiced a protest and requested that the constitutional court pass a judgment on the president's move. Appeals addressed to the Ukrainian people and international community stress that the president's behavior is undemocratic.
We have here a scenario where the options include not only early elections but also a possible change in the constitution. An argument in favor of that supposition is that opposition rallies, particularly last Saturday, called for one-man rule, which, they said, is better than a parliamentary republic. That is not accidental: a slide towards authoritarian rule is one of the opposition's planned developments.
As the president and opposition wax radical, so the ruling parliamentary coalition, too, is changing its stripes: it has declared that it has become a national coalition with a new political program for national unity. And the coalition has approved the government's right to draw up a new reform program. Reforms and national unity mean a victory, ideological as well as political, for the ruling coalition over the orange forces. All the president's and opposition's latest steps have been in response to the ruling coalition's moves.
What comes next? In the immediate future, the parliament will be awaiting a ruling from the constitutional court. At the same time, both supporters of the ruling coalition and the opposition are converging on Kiev. The rallies have been springing up promise to be lasting and crowded. Social tensions are building up. If the court finds against the presidential decree's illegitimacy, the parliament will have the opportunity to challenge the president's legitimacy as well. Civil tensions would then enter a new phase. Among the variety of possible developments, an early presidential ballot cannot be ruled out. If the president is proved wrong, there may be grounds for such a move.
I do not think we can speak of a zero option for now, or returning to the legal playing field. Nor can we expect a sub rosa agreement on new parliamentary elections. But it is unlikely that in the present conditions the branches of authority will be able to carry on as before. We are in for a protracted political war, one of ideology and decision-making. Neither early parliamentary nor presidential elections will be avoided.
The present scene is very different from previous ones. A dominating feature of today's society is apathy. Between 40% and 50% of the population reject the idea of any election. Little over 20% of the protest electorate sympathize with the opposition. Such apathy and disaffection may send regional events into an uncontrollable nosedive. One can imagine what an ordinary citizen of Ukraine living in its western or eastern regions feels when he sees Kiev as the center of political power embroiled in a permanent internal conflict. I fear that one of the effects of this non-linear conflict will be a new wave of disappointment.
As regional sentiments grow, local elites may take advantage of them. The forces behind a radical scenario are no longer what they were in the past. While in 2004 a change of regime seemed a positive step to many voters, now the opposition is in shambles.
If we look at popularity ratings, the Party of Regions - the core of the parliamentary coalition - is still the leader. The Communist Party also commands more support now that it has shown it can be a constructive coalition partner. The opposition is in a more difficult position. While Tymoshenko's party has more or less firm backing (around 20%), President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine movement has been hit by an electoral crisis. It is not ruled out that this six-party bloc, with a wide-ranging spectrum of views, will fall apart. Indicatively, one member of the bloc, Serhiy Holovaty, an ex-justice minister, also came out against the president's decree and, together with his fellow protesters, is urging Yushchenko to obey the law.
Many social scientists and experts say that even if the parliament were to give up and agree to early elections, in two months' time its political architecture would not change drastically. The winners would again be the same political forces and in the same proportion as in 2006. What is more, the odds are that the current members of the ruling coalition will gain a majority. That is what makes me think that the proponents of early parliamentary elections are playing a double game, aware that they cannot win a parliamentary majority. Their behind-the-scenes desire is therefore to discredit parliamentarism as an idea and push society towards endless political campaigns and a struggle between the ruling coalition and the opposition, and thus build up support in society for the idea of strong presidential power. But it is not a given that the incumbent president will keep his job.
Andrei Yermolayev is director of the Ukrainian Sofia Center for Social and Political Studies.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.