Formerly The NIS Observed, An Analytical Review
Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy
Boston University
Boston, MA, USA

By Tammy Lynch

In slightly over one week, the political campaign officially begins for Ukraine’s parliamentary elections to be held on 26 March 2006. In preparation, all major parties are completing negotiations to form campaign coalitions and blocs, as they attempt to increase their potential success. A strong showing by parties in this election is more important than ever, since it is the first election when all MPs will be chosen from party lists, following the elimination of individual mandates.

Further, on 1 January 2006, constitutional changes will come into effect altering the country from a (semi) presidential to a parliamentary-presidential system. As a result, the parliament will have far greater input into the formation of the government – in particular, the choice of prime minister. The parliament also may be able to force the president to relinquish many of the powers that have gradually been absorbed by his office throughout the years, even though they are legally vested in the parliament or prime minister.

Current polls suggest that six parties have a good chance to enter parliament, while several others are on the cusp of the 3 percent threshold. The top three contenders generally are separated by about 5 percentage points, but the party finishing first will have the mandate to lead the formation of a majority coalition and the government. Depending on how a majority is created, it may also have a large voice in determining how many important questions facing Ukraine in 2006 will be answered – from the pace and form of Western integration, to domestic reform of the judiciary and economic fields, to Ukraine’s status as a regional peacemaker, and to the level of its cooperation with Russia.

The most recent reliable poll results came from the Socio-Vymir Center for Sociological and Political Studies, which surveyed 2,400 respondents from 15-25 October in all regions of Ukraine. The Center provided both a national and regional breakdown of results. (1)

If the election were held today, the “Bloc of Viktor Yanukovich,” which is now in the process of being formed, would receive 20.7 percent. The “Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko” (BYuT) comes in at 17.7 percent, while the “Bloc of Viktor Yushchenko” would receive 17.2 percent. The “Bloc of [Parliamentary Speaker] Volodymyr Lytvyn” (6.7 percent), the Communist Party (4.4 percent) and the Socialist Party (4.3 percent) round out the forces that would enter parliament.

A note should be made, however, about the inclusion of the “Bloc of Viktor Yushchenko” in the survey since it does not exist (at least currently). Today, Viktor Yushchenko is honorary chairman of the People’s Union Our Ukraine (NSOU) party, an earlier incarnation of which he founded and represented in parliament from 2002-2004. NSOU, in surveys without the benefit of Yushchenko’s name, has polled from 7-15 percent, depending on date and survey. NSOU leaders clearly are striving to attach Yushchenko’s name to their party, but the number of pitfalls associated with such a move has made the president reluctant to agree.

It is the status and potential success or failure of the NSOU that is the biggest wildcard in the parliamentary elections. The party has so far been unable to define itself, and unable to find the allies it anticipated.

A preliminary agreement for a bloc that would include the NSOU, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, the People’s Rukh of Ukraine, and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (PPPU) was signed on 9 November, but these parties provide limited votes, and the first three have long been associated with Our Ukraine. (2) The PPPU, meanwhile, has proven to be a spotty ally at best, and finds little electoral support.

The party, therefore, continues to search for its direction just days before the official start of the campaign, while the blocs of Tymoshenko and Yanukovich appear to be well situated to begin the campaign.

A more detailed look at each of these three forces follows.

What to do with NSOU?
On 12 November, the People’s Union Our Ukraine (NSOU) party, with its honorary chairman President Viktor Yushchenko, held a party congress that had been designed to announce the makeup of the party’s election bloc, discuss its electoral list and confirm the members of the party’s ruling political council. Viktor Yushchenko also was expected to announce whether he would agree to the party’s request that he lead the electoral list – thus making him a candidate for parliament and providing the party with the benefit of his shrinking but still significant popularity.

As usual for politics in Ukraine, nothing went as planned. Yushchenko did not announce his decision, although he implied that he would not lead the party’s list, the list itself was not finalized, nor were any election coalitions or blocs, and the confirmation of the party’s political council resulted in a portion of the congress’ members chanting “shame!” after the vote. Following the debacle, the Ukrainian online daily Ukrayinska Pravda wrote, with considerable understatement, “Saturday’s events have not in any way improved the perception of [People’s Union] ‘Our Ukraine’ among Ukrainians.” (3)

Clearly, going into the party’s congress, Yushchenko had hoped to give his party a rhetorical shove that would create some momentum for the campaign. His speech to open the congress was typical Yushchenko, long on hopes and dreams, and filled promises of openness, honesty and justice for all.

In particular, the president seemed to suggest the need to remove several members of the party leadership who have been accused of using their positions in government to enrich themselves. “If there is a problem in the [political] council of the party,” Yushchenko said, “[we must] bring this question to the attention of the congress, vote and inform the media that in the party there was a problem, but it was immediately solved.” Further, “Now is the moment of truth. We should be fair and frank, and speak about the problems that exist in the party. … We shall vote and finish.” (4)

As Yushchenko left the congress after his speech, most observers said it appeared that the congress would then vote to eliminate six members from the ranks of the technically supervisory political council: former National Security and Defense Council head Petro Poroshenko, former Emergencies Minister David Zhvania, former presidential aide Oleksandr Tretiakov, former Transportation Minister Yevhen Chervonenko, NSOU parliamentary faction head Mykola Martynenko, and former Justice Minister Roman Zvarich. A report by RIA Novosti suggested that “some party members” at the congress privately called these men “a disgrace to the party’s reputation.” (5)

The first five have been accused of varying levels of corruption, which are being examined by a special parliamentary commission. Zvarich was accused in March of falsifying his resume, but more likely was targeted because of his position as Poroshenko’s attorney.

All six have significant negative ratings in public opinion polls, with Poroshenko being consistently ranked as the least trusted active politician in the country (when surveys are expanded to include “retired” politicians, former President Kuchma overtakes Poroshenko for this title). Understanding that removing the six from NSOU’s political council would improve the image of the party, Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, along with the NSOU campaign head and the campaign manager, were said to support the move.

But Petro Poroshenko, who has been one of the party’s biggest financial supporters, would not go quietly. “I am ready to leave all supervisory posts,” he declared, “but I will not leave the party. I always will be with the president!” He reminded his fellow party members that without his participation on the political council, the party could be doomed. “Do not destroy the party,” he implored. “Do not destroy our unity.”

Later, Poroshenko and several party leaders gathered in a closed room. Minutes later, a decision had been made; there would be no votes for individual members. The council would be voted upon in one group, and would consist of 177 persons chosen behind closed doors, including the infamous six. The council was approved shortly thereafter, to chants of “shame” from some members.

From this vote, it became clear that the NSOU party was not under the control of President Yushchenko or Prime Minister Yekhanurov, or managers Roman Bezsmertniy and Mykola Katerinchuk – all of whom privately had stated their support for a “cleansing” of the council of the party. The very long political council list is heavily weighted in favor of business interests and potential financial backers. It also includes a number of regional governors and mayors, as well as the president’s brother and nephew (who is Deputy Governor of the Kharkiv region). (6)

Given the public perception that NSOU as a party of special interests, this list will provide significant fodder for the party’s opponents. The activities at the congress unfortunately will highlight also the seeming inability of the president to affect or mediate the actions of Poroshenko and company. It is clear from the president’s speech that he believed, and perhaps had instructed, that the political council of the party would change. As he left, a vote was being prepared to do just that. Minutes later, the agenda was altered.

Unfortunately for Poroshenko, by not stepping down off the council, by clinging stubbornly to a title, by possibly forcing Yushchenko to hold the stigmatized party at arm’s length, he may have removed any chance his party had for victory in March.

The party will examine the situation again on 18 November, when its management “renews” the members of the council’s Presidium. It is these 13-19 members who will have the most input into party decisions, and Poroshenko, as well as the five others involved in the party congress’ debate, are currently on the Presidium. Prime Minister Yekhanurov stated clearly on 16 November that these individuals should be removed. (7) Should that happen, the party will receive a clear boost.

The party also will have access to significant media time, thanks to the regular attention given to the prime minister and president. Additionally, although centralized use of “administrative resources” is unlikely on any large scale, in true Soviet and post-Soviet tradition, the party may be afforded special “privileges” by regional and local bureaucrats eager to prove their loyalty. This is especially true given the high number of governors on the party’s political council.

Is ByuT Rising or Falling?
One of the most difficult items to measure in Ukraine appears to be the support for the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko. While there is a general sense that her bloc is running close to the Bloc of Viktor Yanukovich, large discrepancies exist among polls measuring support for BYuT. Findings generally range between 13 and 19 percent. All, however, place her ahead of NSOU.

This difficulty is historical – most polls suggested that Tymoshenko’s bloc would not pass, or only barely pass, the threshold to enter parliament in 2002, but it ended the race with over 7 percent of the vote.

Regardless, Tymoshenko seems to have a solid leadership team in place, strong support in Kyiv and Lviv, and a well-defined message. Although her regional party branches are only forming now (and management of these branches has been a problem in the past), her local supporters have generally been eager and energetic, and she will likely receive grassroots backing from numerous civic groups that participated in the revolution’s protests.

While NSOU continues to bicker over true leadership of their party, BYuT (based primarily on Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchina party) has a clear structure; Yulia Tymoshenko is the leader, former Security Services head and longtime Tymoshenko ally Oleksandr Turchinov will serve as campaign manager. Mykola Tomenko, the former Vice Prime Minister and current deputy head of the Reforms and Order party (previously an Our Ukraine member) will advise and serve as an alternative spokesperson. Oleksandr Zinchenko, Yushchenko’s former chief of staff and the man who first publicly accused Poroshenko of corruption, will also advise and handle logistics related to regional offices. His new position as head of the Patriotic Party may also provide access to the party’s members – retired and/or reservist military, even if their number is relatively small.

The leadership is a very capable and potentially contentious group. The bloc must accommodate each of the above individuals – all of whom are already well-known and most of whom are ambitious and independent. When several additional members of Reforms and Order are added to the mix, it looks to be an interesting campaign. It is not an entirely unique position for Tymoshenko, however, whose bloc has always accommodated nationalist groupings led by well-known personalities.

All of the above individuals seem to be united in their goals for the country, and in the types of reforms they want to implement. There appear to be few differences on policy. Tymoshenko continues to push for reprivatization of what she considers to be assets stolen during the Kuchma administration. All other major parties, including NSOU, oppose this idea, and it looks to be one of Tymoshenko’s most important campaign points.

Since the NSOU and Yanukovich parties are now both painted with accusations of corruption, Tymoshenko also will key in on this point. Should Yushchenko actively support NSOU, he risks receiving collateral damage from this issue. (Tymoshenko herself, of course, must continue to contend with long-standing questions about her actions as the former head of Ukraine's United Energy Systems).

The former prime minister also may benefit from a backlash against the president’s decision to dismiss her from her job as prime minister – a decision she repeatedly has blamed on Poroshenko and other members of NSOU.

BYuT also will continue to support publicly entry into Western structures, but tends toward higher regulation of the economy than these structures would like.

What Tymoshenko does not have is the support (whether moral or otherwise) provided to Yushchenko by Western officials and businesses. These officials are frightened by Tymoshenko’s often-uncompromising rhetoric, and many of them publicly called for her dismissal as prime minister almost from the day she was nominated. Should Westerners provide significant assistance to NSOU on behalf of Yushchenko, but provide no assistance to Tymoshenko, she likely will not hesitate to attack the supposed negative influence of “Western billionaires.”

Should the revolutionary, ultra-reform sentiment continue to prevail in March, these policies should do well for BYuT. But should the public be looking for simple stability and gradual change, and should voters negatively assess her months as prime minister, Tymoshenko and her allies likely will have to settle for second place.

Can Yanukovich win?
In a word, yes, and it is a distinct possibility. With Yushchenko and Tymoshenko fighting, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich sits unbothered and unquestioned, slowly building his support as the leader of the Regions of Ukraine party.

Yanukovich, who as prime minister supported former President Leonid Kuchma’s attempts to bring Ukraine into NATO, now opposes the idea. He also opposes the country’s entry into the EU and the WTO, preferring instead closer ties to Russia through the Common Economic Space.

After months of near pariah status, Yanukovich was rehabilitated by the dismissal of the Tymoshenko government, which he said proved that the leaders of the Orange Revolution were incapable of running the country. Additionally, in one of the greatest ironies possible, he accused both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko of running a lawless government. His September “Memorandum of Understanding” with Yushchenko provided him with a further platform, even as it simultaneous caused a backlash against Yushchenko. The trajectory of support for his party, as well as for him personally, has gone only upward since then.

The former prime minister, and the man accused of complicity in the massive vote rigging of 2004 has said that he would like to form a bloc in his name, and has joined forces with the small New Democracy party led by former Kharkiv Governor Yevhen Kushnarov. This coalition should be useful in politically divided Kharkiv, especially given the high number of NSOU members working within the local administration.

However, it is unclear what significance a coalition really would have for Yanukovich, whose party has a strong and stable base of between 20 and 25 percent of the electorate. Nevertheless, unlike NSOU and BYuT, Yanukovich faces a ceiling on potential support, and it is unlikely that over 25 percent of Ukraine’s electorate would vote for his party. If NSOU and BYuT concentrate on each other, it is distinctly possible that Yanukovich could slip past both parties into first place. Should this happen, the West may be dealing with a very different Ukrainian government in 2006.

The Grand Coalition
In order to avoid a Yanukovich-led government, even if his party places first, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko would need to put aside their differences and form a coalition after the election. Even doing so, given current polls, they could be unable to form a coalition alone. However, the rest of the parliament would be fragmented, thus placing their coalition in control.

Tymoshenko has said she is ready to do this, but demands that she be given the prime minister’s chair again in exchange. At this point, the concession seems unlikely to be made; nevertheless, Tymoshenko is famous for fulfilling difficult personal goals. It will be important for both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to maintain a level of civility during the campaign that will allow them the possibility to govern together in April, should the need present itself.

Source Notes:
(1) “None of the political forces have become an all-national party – poll,” UNIAN News Agency, 1540 CET, 31 Oct 05.
(2) Ukrainian News Agency, 1254 CET, 11 Nov 05, and “Our Ukraine hopes to complete talks on election bloc by Nov 20,” ITAR-TASS, 12 Nov 05 via Lexis-Nexis.
(3) “Scandal in Yushchenko’s Party: The congress has not eaten Poroshenko and friends,” Ukrayinska Pravda, 13:24 CET, 14 Nov 05.
(4) Ibid.
(5) “People’s Union Our Ukraine urges changes in political council,” RIA Novosti, 1539 CET, 12 Nov 05.
(6) For the list, see Ukrainian News Agency, 13 November 05.
(7) “Ukraine PM calls for renewal of pro-president party presidium,” ITAR-TASS, 0648 EST, 16 Nov 05; via Lexis-Nexis.



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