- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2007

Protesters took to the streets of Kiev last week as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko moved to disband parliament and called for early elections — a move he is permitted to do under certain circumstances. His rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, disregarded the order and turned instead to the country’s Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the president’s move, leaving the country in its most serious political deadlock since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Ukraine faces a threat from “a ruling coalition that has exceeded its mandate and attempted to monopolize political power, even at the cost of violating the constitution and ignoring the democratically expressed wishes of the Ukrainian people,” wrote Mr. Yushchenko in the Financial Times. The majority coalition in parliament has expanded its power into areas the president has claimed as his own, which included overstepping the president’s authority in foreign policy by voting to oust the foreign minister. Mr. Yanukovych has been more interested in increasing the influence of his office at the expense of the president than in passing needed reforms.

Also at issue is the fact the Ukrainian constitution requires parliamentary coalitions to be made up of parties, not individual deputies. Mr. Yanukovych’s majority has incorporated several defectors from the disbanded and reformed Orange Coalition — from Mr. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine Party, as well as from former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc. The prime minister is “trying to buy deputies like chickens in a bazaar,” Mrs. Tymoshenko told editors and reporters at The Washington Times last month. The closer the prime minister came to securing 300 deputies in his coalition — the number required to override presidential vetoes and to effect constitutional changes — the greater the pressure on Mr. Yushchenko to act lest he become thoroughly marginalized.

At the heart of this standoff, according to pro-Western reformers, is whether Ukraine will make progress on a course of Euro-Atlantic integration or be dragged into a closer relationship with Russia. Mr. Yanukovych’s term is suppose to run until 2011, but “if this government is in power until then, there would be nothing left of a democratic Ukraine,” said Mrs. Tymoshenko, a leader in the push for pre-term elections, in March. “The territory would still exist, but it would not be Ukraine any longer.” It would only be a “vassal” of Russia.

So far, Washington has adopted the right outlook on the crisis. The State Department called for the Ukrainian government to reach a peaceful solution that is “in accordance with their laws and their constitution.” When the Ukrainian Constitutional Court issues its ruling, it’s important for the United States to maintain its approach, even if the ruling doesn’t favor Mr. Yushchenko. The court’s 2004 decision to throw out Mr. Yanukovych’s fraudulent presidential victory allowed the triumph of democracy and the rise of a pro-Western president. Its decision should again be respected.

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