Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 134

On June 25, voters in ten constituencies across Ukraine cast ballots in a by-election to fill vacancies in Ukraine’s parliament. Pro-presidential forces celebrated an overwhelming victory over leftist candidates, none of whom were elected. The defeat was especially crushing for the country’s Communist Party, whose seven representatives ran and lost in the campaign.

Overall, the election appears to have been little more than a rotation of the pro-presidential elite which has dominated Ukraine since Leonid Kuchma’s election in 1994. Many of the contested seats had been vacated after deputies left parliament to take posts in the government after last year’s presidential election. Oligarch Ihor Bakay’s victory in a constituency in Zhytomyr was his third election to the Rada. He returned to parliament after a two-year stint as director of the Naftogaz Ukrainy oil and gas state monopoly, replacing Yuri Yekhanurov, a veteran state bureaucrat who won the election in 1998 only to assume the post of first deputy premier a year later (December 1999). Serhy Tyhypko, who just left the post of economics minister in Yushchenko’s government, won the election in a mining capital, Pavlohrad, Dnipropetrovsk Region. It is widely believed that the ambitious Tyhypko would return to the government, which he left over tactical and personal differences with Premier Viktor Yushchenko and Deputy Premier Yulia Tymoshenko. Former Health Minister Raisa Bogatyreva celebrated a landslide victory in Donetsk. Taras Chornovil, son of the right-wing Rukh’s late leader, Vyacheslav Chornovil, replaced his father in the Rada, winning the by-election in Lviv. Lesser-known candidates, whose campaigns were backed by local administration heads, who in turn owe their posts to the president, took the other vacant seats in parliament.

Such a pro-government victory lies in more than the waning clout of leftists and relative weakness of other opposition figures. The ruling elite played puppetmaster in backing its candidates: assistance from government-controlled media; organizational assistance from local authorities; and local decreases in consumer goods prices along with mass free distribution of food in the name of the candidate. Even Rada Speaker Ivan Plyushch, whose orientation is strongly pro-presidential, had to admit to dirty techniques in the by-election campaign. The election was also marred by death of the chairman of a polling station in Pavlohrad, who was found hanged immediately after the ballot count finished at his station. Reportedly, he had been under pressure by a team of one of the candidates (Kievskie vedomosti, Studio 1+1, Inter TV, June 26; Den, June 27).

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