Here We Go Again.. AN ISSUE-FREE CAMPAIGN

“Whatever happens on 30 September will not resolve the ongoing struggle for power between the Party of Regions and Yushchenko. A “grand coalition” between these two antagonists looks likely to be short-lived and the same goes for a Tymoshenko government. One result looks certain: people will soon start talking about yet another election.”

Source: TOL

by Ivan Lozowy
26 September 2007

Ukraine’s political problems run deeper than another set of elections can possibly fix.

Also see: ELECTORAL TIMELINE

KYIV, Ukraine Ukraine is in the final stretch of yet another election campaign notable for the lack of substantive debate on political challenges and marred by the deep-seated personal animosities that have dominated Ukrainian politics since the Orange Revolution three years ago.

The 30 September vote is being presented to the public as the solution to the ongoing political crisis brought about by feuding between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. This expectation is bound to be disappointed.

Circling the two antagonists is Yulia Tymoshenko, the firebrand opposition politician who hopes for another chance to sit in the prime minister’s seat.

AN ISSUE-FREE CAMPAIGN

President Yushchenko

The root cause of the friction between the president and the prime minister is a struggle for power and authority in Ukraine’s political system. During this election campaign the political struggles have been conducted almost entirely on a personal level. The platforms of the three main competing blocs hardly get a mention in the media. Attention is focused intensely on one question: who will form a post-election government coalition?

Political sources indicate that the presidential secretariat began preparing for new elections at least as far back as January this year, when a tight circle of consultants gathered to discuss the feasibility of dissolving parliament. But it took three presidential decrees and an eventual political compromise in May to set a firm election date.

Twenty parties and coalitions have registered their candidates’ lists with the Central Election Commission. These include the usual smattering of temporary, minor business alliances, as well as a “Kuchma Bloc.” In an indication of how low expectations have sunk in the wake of a Orange Revolution run aground, a Kyiv graffito urges former President Leonid Kuchma, “Danylich – Come Back!”

Two established parties are unlikely to do well in the voting. The Socialists may not even top the 3-percent cutoff to enter parliament, and the Communists, currently rejoicing at the woes of their former adherent, now Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz, may not do much better.

The real battle will take place between the Party of Regions, headed by Yanukovych, the Our Ukraine – National Self-Defense coalition supported by Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko’s eponymous bloc.

CONFIDENT REGIONS, LACKLUSTER YUSHCHENKO

The Party of Regions is feeling confident, and for good reason. They are polling at 36–38 percent, a marked improvement over their 32 percent result in the 2006 election. The party is pushing its main theme of dependability in the retro style of the former “red” directors from the Soviet period who are key supporters.

The party’s campaign chief, Boris Kolesnikov, has said that Regions would seek a national referendum on Ukraine’s possible entry into NATO and on elevating Russian to a state language, on a par with Ukrainian. These initiatives are aimed against the pro-Western Yushchenko and designed to consolidate support from Ukraine’s eastern, Russian-speaking regions.

Prime Minister Yanukovych

Yanukovych’s personal slogan – “What Yanukovych says, he does” – harks back to Kuchma’s main theme in his race for the presidency in 1994, when serving President Leonid Kravchuk was lampooned as “all words,” while Kuchma was the “man of action.”

As in the Kuchma-Kravchuk race, which Kuchma unexpectedly won, Yanukovych is playing on voters’ disenchantment with the serving president. In 2004, just before the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko ran for the office proclaiming “Not with words, but with action.” But two years of Yushchenko’s presidency and his passivity, detachment, and inefficacy have turned away voters.

Yushchenko’s supporters have gathered in a coalition which largely repeats the format in which they ran in March 2006. Now, however, their bloc is dominated by Yuriy Lutsenko, Number 1 on the bloc electoral list and a politician who has built his political career largely on his animosity, amply returned, towards the Party of Regions.

Lutsenko’s anti-Regions strategy has allowed him to fill a political niche thus far dominated by Tymoshenko. However, his personal poll ratings, currently hovering at 6–8 percent, may not be enough to lift the Our Ukraine coalition much higher than their dismal result of 14 percent last year. Nor has the way he meekly entered Yanukovych’s government just weeks after publicly declaring he would never do so boosted his reputation as scourge of the Party of Regions.

TYMOSHENKO – ETERNAL OPPOSITIONIST?

Tymoshenko, however, remains Ukraine’s premier opposition politician.

Yulia Tymoshenko greeting her supporters at an election rally.

In March 2006 the Tymoshenko Bloc won 22 percent of the vote and this time around her results are likely to improve slightly, but based on the numbers of people who dislike her hard-headed style – her negative ratings have consistently been the highest among Ukraine’s national politicians – Tymoshenko may have reached the upper limit of supporters she can win over.

Tymoshenko’s message is simple: give me another shot at running the country from the prime minister’s office. The problem with this scenario, however, is that most people were not very impressed with her first time around, when a meat crisis was followed by a gasoline crisis and privatized enterprises were slated for nationalization.

Tymoshenko’s main problem, however, is not so much the election as the intentions of Yushchenko and his closest allies. The role that will be played in post-election coalition talks by Viktor Baloha, the powerful head of the presidential secretariat, will be crucial. Rumors abound that Baloha himself is interested in the post of prime minister. Though such an eventuality is somewhat far-fetched, Baloha will be very reluctant to see in the job given her track record as a solo rather than team player.

READING TEA LEAVES

Some analysts are whispering about the possibility of a worst-case scenario – the Party of Regions garnering more than half the seats in parliament together with the communists, allowing them to form a government on their own. The two parties have worked as solid coalition partners in the Yanukovych-led government.

Others mutter that fraud may cloud the outcome of the voting. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine, a non-partisan, Western-funded monitoring group, has issued regular reports listing its concerns about such issues as the use of central government resources to influence voting, irregularities in voter registration lists, and inadequate regulation of home voting for disabled people.

Following the March 2006 elections, independent journalists uncovered evidence of serious and massive voting falsifications in the Donetsk region, the home base of the Party of Regions.

Over the past decade, local election commissions have become adept at election fraud. Since election commission members are dominated by representatives of local government, manipulation of voting results is commonplace.

Whatever happens on 30 September will not resolve the ongoing struggle for power between the Party of Regions and Yushchenko. A “grand coalition” between these two antagonists looks likely to be short-lived and the same goes for a Tymoshenko government. One result looks certain: people will soon start talking about yet another election.

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