Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 61

Tymoshenko stages political comeback and finishes second in elections

The Our Ukraine (NU) bloc of President Viktor Yushchenko lost the March 26 parliamentary elections not only to the opposition Party of Regions (PRU) of Viktor Yanukovych, whom Yushchenko defeated in the presidential poll in 2004, but also, quite unexpectedly, to its former Orange coalition partner, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT). Because of this surprising development, the new parliament may not be viable, as it will be hard to form a ruling coalition. The election, however, was a victory for Yushchenko the democrat and guarantor of the constitution. This was the first Ukrainian election whose results are not disputed by any of the major participants. Western and Russian observers have agreed that the vote was free and fair.

Irregularities did take place, but mostly due to imperfect legislation. There were long queues at polling stations because the parliamentary and local elections were held simultaneously, and people had to tick their choices on four or five extremely long ballot papers. There were also mistakes in voter rolls, including some due to the translation of Russian names into Ukrainian in the Russian-speaking east and south — which, the PRU claims, prevented a certain number of their supporters from voting.

According to the national exit poll, conducted jointly by the Razumkov Center, the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, the PRU won the election with 31% of the popular ballot. The Tymoshenko Bloc came second with 24%, defying public opinion polls conducted before the election. Our Ukraine, which had been widely expected to surpass the BYT, came third instead, with just 15.5%. The Central Electoral Commission was still counting the votes as of noon March 29, but the figures after 95% of the ballots have been counted almost coincided with the exit poll’s predictions.

Only two more parties — of the 45 parties that participated in the election — overcame the 3% election barrier. These are the Socialists with 5.4% and the Communists with 3.3%, according to the exit poll. For the Communists, who were beaten by the PRU in their strongholds, Donetsk Region and Crimea, this is the worst result in history. The United Social Democrats of former President Leonid Kuchma’s administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk — probably the most influential party of the Kuchma era — risks sinking into political oblivion with less than 1%.

The NU’s dismal performance compared to the BYT has interfered with plans to re-establish the Orange Revolution coalition of the NU, the BYT, and the Socialists. The NU and the BYT initially planned to sign a coalition accord on the evening of March 26. The event has now been postponed several times, as the NU is apparently not ready to accept its crushing defeat at the hands of the BYT.

Before the election, NU campaign manager Roman Bezsmertny said that whichever Orange Coalition party scores more votes than its partners should nominate the candidate for prime minister. The tug of war over the post of prime minister has been arguably the main problem in relations between Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko Bloc. Tymoshenko herself has staked a claim to take back this post, but the NU believes that Tymoshenko lost the right to claim this position after Yushchenko fired her in September 2005 for poor performance and because of corruption scandals.

If an Orange Coalition reforms and Bezsmertny sticks to his word, the coveted post arguably should go back to Tymoshenko. This is not just humiliating, but also unacceptable for many in Our Ukraine. “President Yushchenko is categorically against having reprivatization continued or speculated on,” Yushchenko aide Ivan Vasyunyk told a briefing on March 27. Tymoshenko’s opponents accuse her of scaring investors by unleashing a massive reprivatization campaign when she was prime minister, but Tymoshenko says she only wanted to return to the nation what was “stolen” by the “oligarchs” under Kuchma.

Asked by Inter TV what would happen if Yushchenko refused to accept her conditions, Tymoshenko replied, “Then he will have to accept Yanukovych as prime minister.” Yanukovych’s PRU would welcome such a turn. Regions of Ukraine argues that an “orange-blue” coalition would unite orange Western Ukraine and blue (the PRU’s color) Eastern Ukraine. But the NU would be a junior partner in such a coalition, as it scored less than half the vote of the PRU. Such an alliance would be hard for most Our Ukraine sympathizers to digest, as the PRU’s foreign policy priorities, which PRU campaign manager Yevhen Kushnaryov listed in an interview with UT1, include giving up NATO accession plans and seeking a rapprochement with Moscow.

If no coalition is formed, Yushchenko will be entitled to dismiss the legislature as, under the constitutional amendments in effect from January 1, only a stable majority can come up with a candidate for prime minister. If no majority is in place — and none of the three main parties will be able to form it without partners — Yushchenko may have no choice but to call new elections this summer.

(UT1, March 26; Interfax-Ukraine, Channel 5, March 26, 27; Ukrayinska pravda, NTN TV, Inter, March 27)