Financial Times FT.com

Ukraine's crisis needs a firm response

By Viktor Yushchenko

Published: April 4 2007 03:00 | Last updated: April 4 2007 03:00

The ultimate responsibility of my office is to uphold the constitution and ensure that political affairs are conducted in accordance with its principles. That has always been my overriding priority because Ukraine's acceptance as a normal European democracy depends on it. It is essential to the realisation of our most important national goals.

Ukraine's young democracy today faces a new and dangerous challenge, one that requires a firm and immediate response. It comes from a ruling coalition that has exceeded its mandate and attempted to monopolise political power, even at the cost of violating the constitution and ignoring the democratically expressed wishes of the Ukrainian people.

Since the new government was formed last summer, I have repeatedly tried to persuade Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister, to govern in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation. Instead, the ruling coalition has waged a relentless campaign to overturn both the constitutional balance of power and the results of the last parliamentary elections. This situation cannot persist. I have been left with no choice but to dissolve parliament and call a fresh round of parliamentary elections for May 27. It is an extreme measure, but I am also clear that the Ukrainian national interest demands it.

In a democracy, the people must always be the final arbiters of power. Only by trusting in the wisdom of the Ukrainian people can we break this political deadlock and create the consensus necessary for our country to move forward again.

I make no apologies for trying to reach a broad political understanding in the difficult circumstances created by last year's parliamentary elections. As president, I saw it as my duty to put the long-term interests of Ukraine before personal preference or partisan advantage. I considered it an important test of our political maturity.

It is quite common in advanced democratic societies for elections to produce results that oblige political opponents to govern in partnership. Germany today is governed by a "grand coalition" of left and right. France has experienced periods of "cohabitation". The American constitution seems to invite it, with the White House and Congress occupied by different political parties more often than not.

In spite of this, these societies remain stable, prosperous and well-governed. In each case the political elites understand that there is something more important at stake than the pursuit of political power. Respecting the wishes of their voters, they seek to share power in the national interest.

Of course, ideas and policies are contested and debated, often in very robust terms. But all sides observe limits in order to prevent political competition from damaging the fabric of democratic life. When that becomes a risk, they choose compromise instead of confrontation. Above all, they respect their own constitutions and maintain the checks and balances essential to prevent monopolistic abuses of power.

It was in that spirit that I reached out to Mr Yanukovich after it became clear that the Orange parties would not be able to form a majority coalition last summer. After everything that had happened before, no one should be in any doubt that it was a very difficult personal decision to make. But it was also one that I firmly believed to be in Ukraine's best interests.

As part of that process I negotiated a declaration of national unity in order to bind president and government to a common platform setting out coherent and realisable goals in line with the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. It was on the basis of that historic compromise that I hoped to consolidate Ukraine's democratic transformation.

It is with great regret that I have to say that the spirit of reconciliation and compromise required to make that arrangement a success has not been reciprocated by the ruling coalition. They have consistently acted in bad faith. Instead of respecting the agreement to share power, they have sought to undermine it by grabbing more power for themselves at every opportunity and with every means available. Instead of respecting the wishes of the Ukrainian people expressed freely at the ballot box, they have used subterfuge to alter the parliamentary balance in an entirely undemocratic manner.

These are not the actions of responsible democrats. They reflect attitudes and behaviour that the Ukrainian people had every reason to believe had been consigned to our past. Instead, it seems that we must fight and defeat them once again.

For me, this is a matter of supreme national importance. If Ukraine is to be recognised as an integral part of the community of European democracies, it is imperative that this crisis is resolved in line with our own constitutional principles. How can we be trusted to respect the rule of international law if we cannot respect the rule of law at home?

I hope Mr Yanukovich will come to see that new elections are the only appropriate way to resolve this crisis. Genuine democrats should never fear the verdict of the people. Only those who remain stubbornly attached to the old ways should want our political future to be decided by intrigues and backroom deals. Ukraine needs to show that it has left all that behind.

The writer is president of Ukraine

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