So the Orange Coalition has pulled itself back together to form a governing majority in Ukraine once again. Somehow “incompetent” Viktor Yushchenko and “traitor” Yulia Tymoshenko (in the eyes of some of the respective partisans of both politicians) are back on the same page. Months wasted and then the economic crisis hit as Ukraine’s main exports decline in value and people pull money from the banks.

It’s understandable why no one might want elections in those conditions but it doesn’t seem that any of the underlying issues which led to the second “Orange Divorce” — particularly over who gets to control what positions — have been settled. So is it just a matter of time before the coalition fractures?  Or this time will these questions get settled?

As far as I can tell, we don’t have a renewed coalition in Ukraine but the agreement of the three blocs (Tymoshenko, Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense) to cooperate in the passage of legislation. After months of squabbling, the realization that in the midst of a profound global economic crisis, it might not be a good idea for Ukraine not to have its 2009 budget ready or a gas agreement with Russia signed and sealed seems to caused politicians to put aside their disputes — at least temporarily.

But the long-term outlook is still gloomy. The presidential administration wants the 2009 budget to allocate funds for early elections — while the speaker of the Rada, Volodymyr Lytvyn, insists that a coalition has been formed that can sustain a government through to parliamentary elections in 2012.

The problem extends beyond any personal divisions between the principals, however. The idea that Ukraine’s protracted political agony is primarily a result of spats between Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko misses the larger picture about control of the executive branch. At odds are not simply politicians but staffs and bureaucracies — the presidential administration and the government apparatus. We may have a temporary agreement on passing legislation — and it is also understandable why very few politicians would want to go to elections right now, given conditions in the country — but the longer term questions remain unresolved — as they always have. Who gets to control the executive branch and set policy? It is not accidental that Lytvyn has started talking about putting his “representatives” in executive agencies (and the presidential administration responds by declaring that there is no “three-way” coalition).

Appealing to “democracy” is no help either, since both president and parliament have electoral mandates from the people. And based on what “chair” a politician hopes to be sitting in–there has been a great deal of inconsistency as to whether the presidency or the prime ministership ought to be strengthened.

Ukraine’s political system avoids the possibility of the emergence of a strong president who might be tempted to move down an authoritarian, dictatorial path. But it also doesn’t provide much order for fractious politicians and ambitious staff to get their act together. Even if the Orange Coalition can be reformed, there’s no guarantee that the third time
will be the charm.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government.