The People’s Union-Our Ukraine party of President Viktor Yushchenko (NSNU) is undergoing a severe identity crisis just four months ahead of the crucial parliamentary polls scheduled for March 26. Addressing the NSNU congress on November 12, Yushchenko said the party should win the election. This may be little more than wishful thinking. Yushchenko left after delivering his speech, and what happened next showed that the party might be too seriously ill to win. Grassroots groups tried to expel from the party leadership several businessmen-turned-politicians who had been accused of corruption. This attempt at cleansing the NSNU ranks, which was reportedly backed by Yushchenko, failed.
The November 12 congress was widely expected to decide who would top the NSNU list for the polls. This should be Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Yushchenko said two days earlier during a question-and-answer session with university students broadcast live by several TV channels. But the congress had no time to discuss the party-list rankings. Right at the beginning of the meeting the obscure leader of the Uzhgorod regional NSNU cell, Anatoly Kolibaba, climbed the rostrum and read a statement accusing six top NSNU members of “compromising the new power and the president.” Yushchenko, speaking after Kolibaba, declared, “I share this opinion.” Yushchenko had earlier fired five of the six people named by Kolibaba from top posts in his administration. According to Ukrayinska pravda, Kolibaba named NSNU parliamentary faction leader Mykola Martynenko, former National Security and Defense Council secretary Petro Poroshenko, Yushchenko’s former aide Oleksandr Tretyakov, former transport minister Yevhen Chervonenko, former emergencies minister Davyd Zhvania, and former justice minister Roman Zvarych.
Yushchenko left the meeting early, apparently trying to make an impression that he was above the conflict. This was a tactical mistake, if he really was behind Kolibaba’s demarche, as many suspect. The rebels clearly did not have enough persuasive power in Yushchenko’s absence. “The business party” within the NSNU, as journalists dubbed the six strong men and their allies, proved to be a nut too hard to crack. Chervonenko and Poroshenko took the floor, duly pledged loyalty to Yushchenko, and recalled that no single court has upheld the corruption accusations leveled against them by the allies of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in September. “I will do my utmost to prevent the party from splitting,” Poroshenko said. By the end of the day, “the business party” celebrated a victory over the rebels, as the majority voted down a motion suggesting the removal of most of the individuals listed by Kolibaba (Chervonenko insisted he was not on the list) from the NSNU council – the party’s governing body.
Orange Revolution idealism was behind the abortive rebellion. There is a widespread belief among the NSNU grassroots that the “business party” is solely to blame for the NSNU’s relatively low popularity. Many of those ordinary Ukrainians who stood in Independence Square in Kyiv a year ago genuinely do not understand why Yushchenko’s party, which conquered the old regime, now looks almost sure to lose the parliamentary election. Finding no explanation, they demonize “the business party” that lost the information war to Tymoshenko, have been unconvincing in rejecting the accusations of conflict of interest prompted by their business links, and have been compromised by ties to Russian maverick tycoon Boris Berezovsky. As if blissfully unaware of this, Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertny, who has been appointed the NSNU campaign manager, told ICTV on November 13 that he would like to consult with Berezovsky on election strategy. “The experience of our three-year-long cooperation [with Berezovsky] has changed a lot in my views on public campaigns and on politics in general,” Bezsmertny confessed.
Being unable to quell the passions inside his own party, Yushchenko may fail to persuade many other parties that were in his coalition prior to the Orange Revolution to form a bloc with the NSNU for next year’s polls. The nationalist Ukrainian People’s Party of Yuriy Kostenko is almost ready with a bloc of its own, which should include the radical Prosvita, the Congress of Ukrainian Intelligentsia, and the obscure Association of Ukrainian Farmers. And the liberal Reforms and Order party, which used to be very faithful to Yushchenko, looks set to run in the election in a coalition with Tymoshenko.
Several players, mostly those employed in the Yushchenko government, have so far expressed a readiness to work on a bloc with him. The NSNU, the People’s Movement of Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, the Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of security supremo Anatoly Kinakh, and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists of Naftohaz state-controlled oil and gas company head Oleksiy Ivchenko announced on November 11 that they are setting up a coordination body tasked with organizing a bloc for the election.
(Proua.com, October 31; Ukrayinski novyny, November 8; ICTV, November 10, 13; UNIAN, November 11; Kanal 5 TV, November 12; Ukrayinska pravda, November 14)