Both sides in Ukraine’s political crisis are digging in and neither looks unlikely to yield soon. Broad-reaching political reforms are being discussed as potential solutions to the deadlock, but these, too, risk more instability. Of these options, a transition to an outright parliamentary system seems best.
A pro-European integration protester during clashes in Kiev. Photo: AP
The current crisis in Ukraine has already lasted longer and been more severe than the Orange Revolution of 2004.
In just over two months after the Orange Revolution began, the outcome of the confrontation between the government and the opposition was decided in favor of the latter. By that time, the initiative in the political struggle had firmly moved to the orange camp. A second round of presidential elections had already been held, and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko had won.
By contrast, within two months after the start of this new round of conflict, the political crisis is far from resolved.
The confrontation has also escalated much further than it did nine years ago – now there are victims and bloodshed. This raises the stakes in the political confrontation and reduces the parties’ desire to compromise.
The Ukrainian leadership is mostly responsible for what is happening.
For many months, the leadership had declared a policy of harmonization with the European Union. This prepared the population for the fact that the long negotiation process at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius would be coming to an end, and that all the documents regarding association and creation of a free trade zone would be signed.
On the eve of the summit the Ukrainian Government changed course and began to talk about possible risks to the economy. The decision to postpone signing the association agreement with the EU was a surprise for many.
Furthermore, attempts to put pressure on the protesters only intensified the situation and caused a new wave of protests that led to the government's decision to dismiss the Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov.
It should be noted that the vast majority of people out in the streets have been using peaceful means of protest. The movement radicalized as the government decided not to engage in the dialogue with the protesters. The authorities probably hoped that over the Christmas holidays, everything would fizzle out.
Nevertheless, it has also become clear that the opposition’s actions are not under the full control of their leaders and that the protest movement itself is extremely fragmented.
At the moment, the situation is a stalemate. Neither the government nor the opposition know what to do next. Both sides also realize that something should be done.
On the one hand, the acute phase of political confrontation has passed, as talks between the government and the opposition brought their first results – Azarov’s government has been dismissed, and much-reviled anti-protest laws were repealed.
However, the question of how to overcome the political crisis, just like the question of the future Association Agreement with the EU, remains open.
President Viktor Yanukovych attempted to defuse the crisis by offering opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitaly Klichko positions in the cabinet of ministers.
It is likely that this initiative had two objectives: to introduce confusion among the leaders of the opposition, and to make the opposition leadership share in the responsibility for the political and economic situation in the country.
However, the leaders of the opposition refused the offer from Yanukovych. This was probably in order to maintain the strategic initiative in their own hands, and to keep from being seen as responsible for the consequences of the decisions made by Azarov’s government.
So what might be a way out of the current political situation?
If inviting opposition leaders into the government under its current structure didn’t work, perhaps a more significant reorganization of the structure of Ukrainian government could break the deadlock.
In recent days, the idea of returning to the Constitution of 2004 has been widely discussed. However, this idea comes with significant risks of further instability.
The key provisions of the 2004 reform consisted of the fact that part of the government would be appointed by the President, and the other part by the Parliament. At the time, the reform was a compromise between the ruling regime and the opposition.
The reform of 2004 was, at first glance, aimed at overcoming the imbalance of power and the creation of a strong system of checks and balances between the president and the parliament by broadening the power of the parliament. Under the reforms, the parliament, not the president, won the power to nominate the country’s Prime Minister.
These reforms of 2004 were ultimately overturned by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine in a highly controversial decision in 2010.
However, at the time, the result was that the cabinet largely lost its effectiveness and became a hostage of relations between the legislative and the executive authorities.
The reform was essentially half-hearted and limited. In fact, the new structure became one of the reasons for the prolonged conflict between Yushchenko and the parliamentary majority, as its provisions put the government in a situation of dual centers of political power. Most importantly, it did not provide mechanisms for resolving disputes between the president and the parliament.
That is, the return of the 2004 Constitution would be likely to be followed by a prolonged government crisis, and the government and the opposition would simply move from one impasse to another.
The best scenario, in my view, then, might be a transition to a parliamentary form of government.
This would create more favorable conditions for decision-making in the legal field. It would help break the current structure of the confrontation. And it would manage the risks of radicalization of the protest movement to a greater extent.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.