Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 68

Ukraine’s United Social Democratic Party (USDP) publicly confirmed yesterday that it supports incumbent President Leonid Kuchma as a contender in the upcoming October presidential elections. Viktor Medvedchuk, USDP leader and deputy speaker in the Ukrainian parliament, who made the announcement, said that though the party will formally nominate its presidential candidate only at a congress in May, the USDP “leadership has already decided to back incumbent President Kuchma.” The USDP is the second party to advocate Kuchma as a candidate, echoing the People’s Democrats Party (NDP).

Medvedchuk’s statement came two days after Serhy Peresunko–leader of the Social-Democratic Union (SDU), which had split from the USDP to back former Premier Yevhen Marchuk’s presidential bid–alleged that the USDP’s lower ranks, dissenting with party leadership, would vote for Marchuk (Ukrainian television, April 7; see the Monitor, April 6).

Last year the USDP was generally regarded as the electoral base of Marchuk, its faction leader in parliament. However, this past winter USDP party leadership–after dismissing Vasyl Onopenko as party chairman, expelling his group from the party, and appointing Medvedchuk (long-time Kuchma adviser) to Onopenko’s post–broke with Marchuk.

The commanding positions in the USDP now belong to a group of successful businessmen with strong connections to the presidential administration and to a sprawl of business interests reportedly ranging from petrol trade to mass media. Hryhory Surkis–Medvedchuk’s former business partner and USDP informal Number Two–was listed as Ukraine’s top “oligarch” in a recent analytical report of the Kyiv-based Institute of Politics (UNIAN, April 7). Oleksandr Zinchenko–chairman of the USDP parliamentary faction–is behind Ukraine’s most popular television channel, Inter, a joint venture with the Russian ORT.–OV