Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 16

On January 22, the sixth congress of Ukraine’s Hromada party nominated former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko–who is currently under investigation in Switzerland for charges of money-laundering–as its presidential candidate in the upcoming elections (see the Monitor, December 4, 7, 14, 23, 1998). The vote was 258-1, with two abstentions. In his speech to the congress, Lazarenko announced the Hromada’s intention to negotiate and join forces with other parties in support of a single candidate (Ukrainian agencies and television, January 22; Den, January 23). These other forces will probably be leftist parties–specifically, the Socialist Party and the Peasants’ Party, with which Hromada closely cooperates in parliament.

Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Turchynov, both of whom have resigned as Hromada party deputy heads (see the Monitor, January 21), were absent from the congress. Speaking at the congress, Lazarenko indirectly accused Tymoshenko and Turchynov of conspiring against him with President Kuchma, who wants a Ukrainian trial for Lazarenko. Tymoshenko denied both that she would leave the Hromada altogether or that she would attempt to split it. She also said that she would not run in the October presidential elections (Zerkalo nedeli, January 23).

Lazarenko–who was released on bail in December from a Geneva prison–is regarded by many in Ukraine as incorrigibly corrupt. His chances of winning the election are small. According to a poll taken by the Ukrainian Institute of Social and Political Psychology, over 50 percent of Ukraine’s eligible voters believe that Lazarenko’s arrest undermined Ukraine’s international image, and 73 percent approve of his detention by the Swiss authorities (Zerkalo nedeli, January 23). However, he may avoid or postpone his possible arrest in Ukraine, where he is suspected of embezzlement. Currently Lazarenko enjoys deputy immunity, which the parliament may soon lift. If formally nominated as president–a nomination followed by registration with the Central Electoral Commission–Lazarenko may be out of reach of Ukraine’s prosecution for at least three months, according to a new electoral law which provides for immunity for presidential candidates. President Kuchma has yet to sign this law into effect.

Commenting on the investigation in Switzerland and the February hearing on the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office’s charges against him, Lazarenko warned that he would “name all the names,” disclosing corruption among high officials of the current government. Lazarenko alleged that his Swiss detention had been prepared and directed by Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies, whose emissaries “were in the next room and provided advice to the investigating judge on every issue” (STV, January 22; Den, January 23). –OV