- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2007

A little more than two years ago, Ukrainians celebrated the promise of a democratic future after thousands took to the streets and protested the fraudulent presidential victory of Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

But the triumph of Viktor Yushchenko, who won the disputed election, Yulia Tymoshenko, who became prime minister, and the Orange Revolution faded all too quickly, and in August 2006 Mr. Yanukovych became prime minister again, with his power growing at the expense of the president’s. Mr. Yanukovych has advanced closer ties to Russia, stalled talks of NATO integration and “is trying to buy deputies like chickens in a bazaar,” said Mrs. Tymoshenko last week at The Washington Times. Mrs. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yushchenko recently signed an agreement to form a unified opposition.

Mrs. Tymoshenko argued that Ukraine can either continue along the path charted by Mr. Yanukovych for closer relations with Russia — “as close as possible” — that would leave Ukraine again a “vassal” of Russia, or the president can, under certain conditions according to the constitution, call pre-term elections. “The goal of the opposition,” she said, is to put Ukraine back on a course of “Euro-Atlantic integration and deep transformative reforms.” And “the only instrument that we have today at our disposal is pre-term elections.”

The first necessary step, which could come by the end of April, is a ruling from the Constitutional Court to affirm that there is a legal basis for the president to call for early elections. The president must then issue the decree for pre-term elections, and do it in such a way that the prime minister would have no choice but to abide.

Any one of these steps could fall through, leaving Mr. Yanukovych in power until the scheduled elections in 2011. Even if pre-term elections are held, there’s no guarantee that the turmoil that followed the March 2006 parliamentary elections won’t be repeated. The deadlock ended only when Mr. Yushchenko endorsed his rival Mr. Yanukovych for prime minister.

The last time the Orange coalition came to power it was unable to stay together long — a failing that Mrs. Tymoshenko said could be prevented in the future by slowing the pace of reforms. Many of Ukraine’s post-Orange Revolution problems, including intraparty fighting and corruption, could be understood as the kinks of a nascent democracy. Ukraine’s current slide toward Russia is more serious, according to Mrs. Tymoshenko. While many advances — freedom of speech and of the press, and true political opposition — remain, the country’s hard-won political progress faces a very serious challenge. If the revived coalition can return to power, it will need to avoid the mistakes that brought about its previous collapse if it is to put Ukraine back on a path toward Euro-Atlantic integration.

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