The Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), already weakened by the formation of the pro-presidential majority in parliament toward the end of 1999, is continuing to face bad times. Still fearing the CPU’s ability to mobilize the protest vote, the center-right force has launched the creation of pocket communist and other leftist parties. It seems bent on hammering the old communist colossus into pebbles and dust. One might wonder why. The CPU party electorate is losing its cohesiveness, and the next scheduled parliamentary elections are two years off. Given the countrywide referendum of April 16, however, and Kuchma’s proposed constitutional amendments, the answer is easier to understand. If the amendments–which were approved in a preliminary vote this month–pass in their final form this fall, early parliamentary elections are highly likely, even probable.
Still, the center-right move might seem like overkill. At the regular CPU congress held on June 24, the party’s feeble state was all too evident. Two opposing factions within the party–the moderates and the orthodox Leninists, nearly tore the gathering apart. CPU Chairman Petro Symonenko narrowly escaped dismissal. The moderate and charismatic Crimean communist leader Leonid Hrach, who reportedly harbors presidential ambitions, did not attend. During the congress, Symonenko proposed to Oleksandr Moroz–leader of the Socialists, who attended the CPU congress as a guest–that the communists and the socialists merge to form a single party. Moroz said no.
Meanwhile, alternative leftist parties are popping up like mushrooms across Ukraine’s political landscape. In April of this year, the Ukrainian Communist Youth Association was set up by a group of CPU renegades, reportedly with assistance from the country’s “oligarchs.” Just over a week ago, on July 16, an organization called the Reformed Communist Party of Ukraine (RCPU) held its constituting congress and elected Mykhaylo Savenko, a member of the Rada faction Labor Ukraine, as its leader. (Labor Ukraine was founded in 1999 by Ihor Sharov, Andry Derkach and Viktor Pinchuk–influential businessmen in politics close to Kuchma.) Savenko spoke against “the obstinate opposition of the leftists” and said that the RCPU does not claim to be a successor of the Soviet Communists. The CPU does. Symonenko blasted the creation of RCPU as an attempt to split the leftist movement. Finally, on July 19, the leaders of five small parties–Regional Revival (RR), For Beautiful Ukraine, Party of Labor, Solidarity and Pensioners Party–announced plans to set up a single and strong center-left party. These five borrowed from the “anti-capitalist” Communists their brand slogans of social justice and protection of the poor, but their leaders are well connected in the corridors of power and well versed in business. Party of Labor and RR are organizations with roots in the rich Donetsk industrial elite. RR Leaders play leading roles in a parliamentary group of the same name, which is headed by Kuchma aide Oleksandr Volkov. Praveks Bank–headed by Leonid Chernovetsky, the leader of For Beautiful Ukraine–is among the top ten Ukrainian credit institutions. The leader of Solidarity, the chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko, is believed to have initiated this newest bloc. Poroshenko’s center-left, ostentatiously pro-presidential faction in the parliament absorbed in March the nucleus of a disbanded Peasant faction, former main allies of the CPU (UNIAN, June 24, July 17-18; Den, July 19-20; Zerkalo nedeli, July 22; see the Monitor, March 6).
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