Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 144

Work creating electoral alliances for Ukraine’s parliamentary elections of March 2002 is now in full swing. On June 17, the leaders of four major pro-presidential parties–Serhy Tyhypko of Labor Ukraine, Mykola Azarov of the Ukrainian Party of Regions (UPR), Valery Pustovoytenko of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Mykhaylo Hlady of the Agrarian Party of Ukraine (APU)–signed a declaration of intent to set up such a bloc.

Theirs will be an alliance of the governing elite and, as such, should have very good chances in the elections. The only strong competition they might face within the elite will be from the United Social Democratic Party of Viktor Medvedchuk and Hryhory Surkis. This party, which controls several popular TV channels, has strong regional organizations and boasts a membership second only to the Communists, does not need alliances to get through the 4-percent barrier to the Rada. The bloc of four is no less strong: strong bases in two of Ukraine’s richest regions (Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk), control of a significant portion of rural electorate and a developed network with PDP (the “party of power” only a few years ago).

The Ukrainian Party of Regions, founded this past March (see the Monitor, March 28), is the youngest of the four, but potentially the strongest. It boasts two unbeatable advantages: Ukrainian State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov as its leader and a regional base in Donetsk–the richest and the most densely populated region. In a country where more taxes are evaded than paid, entrepreneurs can easily be persuaded to vote for someone who can be expected either to forgive bad tax-paying habits for a favor or to punish for voting “wrong.” The UPR ranks have been intensively growing in Donetsk, with whose elite Azarov has close ties. Control over this region, which accounts for 10 percent of Ukrainian electorate, means that the UPR could get through to the next Verkhovna Rada without joining an alliance. In Donetsk, the UPR may be beaten only by one party–the Communists, who have a traditional stronghold there.

Labor Ukraine is essentially an organization of the Dnipropetrovsk elite–a region second only to Donetsk in its industrial potential. Labor Ukraine has affluent people with ties to the very top among its ranks. Apart from Tyhypko, a former economics minister and the founder of Ukraine’s most successful private bank, Privatbank, these are President Leonid Kuchma’s son-in-law and metallurgy magnate Viktor Pinchuk, son of a former head of the security service (SBU) and media magnate Andry Derkach, and gas entrepreneur Ihor Sharov. The problem of Labor Ukraine is that this party is barely known anywhere outside Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk. According to various polls, it could hardly score more than 1-1.5 percent in the elections, running alone. This party is much in need of an alliance to win.

The PDP and the APU are natural allies. Both were one time established by the government, both consist of government officials and mid-level entrepreneurs. The clout of each, however, has been waning with the clout of their leaders: former Premier Pustovoytenko is now transport minister; former Deputy Premier for Agriculture Hlady was downgraded to governor of the Lviv region. But there are still several ministers and governors among their ranks, and both the PDP and the APU have preserved good regional networks. The APU is popular among the rural electorate in western and central Ukraine. The PDP, which is organizationally the strongest force in the announced bloc, is also the most popular among the four. According to polls, however, this popularity is on the decline.

Leaders of the alliance see its future differently. This raises doubts about its viability. Pustovoytenko believes that the PDP could pass the electoral barrier running alone. He is the most evasive about prospects of the alliance among the four leaders. Just three days after the bloc announcement, he suggested that his party would get more seats in parliament running alone rather than in a bloc whose list it will have to share with three other parties. Tyhypko and Azarov, on the contrary, view the alliance as a foundation of a future unified party.

The alliance is open for other pro-presidential forces to join. The four leaders made it clear that they would be glad to invite Premier Anatoly Kinakh’s Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of to join. Kinakh, however, is more than cautious because the alliance’s prospects are not yet clear.

Both Pustovoytenko’s doubts and uncertainty about rules of the game make it difficult to speak about how viable the alliance is. It is not yet known according to which law the elections will be held. Kuchma threatens to veto the newest election law, which the Rada passed just before the summer break, according to which 70 percent of seats should be assigned to party lists and only 30 percent to single-seat constituencies. If the Rada fails to override Kuchma’s veto in the autumn and the election is held according to the old system, in which half of parliament is elected from single-seat constituencies, such parties as the UPR and Labor Ukraine will be less in need of the bloc. They do not have the strong organization necessary for the election from party lists, but they have money and bright personalities to easily win single-seat constituencies (Den, July 18, 20; UT-1, New Channel TV, July 19; STB TV, July 20).