Ukraine’s fugitive former prime minister, Pavlo Lazarenko, sent word yesterday from the United States that he is dropping out of the race for the Ukrainian presidency. Lazarenko complained of “massive pressure by the authorities” against the opposition in general and against his Hromada party in particular. He urged, nevertheless, persistence in pursuing “the strategic goal of replacing the present regime.”
Lazarenko’s decision cut short the show of enthusiasm put on by his party, Hromada, which had just nominated him as presidential candidate at a congress on June 12 in Kyiv. Hromada demonstratively held part of that congress in the street after being refused access to premises it had rented in advance. The organizers mustered 256 delegates from all of Ukraine’s regions–a tribute to the continuing ability of the rump clan in Dnipropetrovsk to bankroll political activities country-wide. The congress listened to a recorded address by Lazarenko on the political situation in Ukraine and approved a statement in which it accused the government of planning to manipulate the election and establish a dictatorship. It called on opposition forces to form a common front against the authorities and launched the signature-collecting campaign in support of Lazarenko’s candidacy. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko, however, lost no time in pointing out that Lazarenko no longer meets the qualifications of a presidential candidate, to wit, ten years of continuous residence in Ukraine prior to election date and a legally valid report on his income and assets (UNIAN, June 12, 14; see the Monitor, June 3).
Lazarenko is currently seeking asylum in the United States in the hope of avoiding prosecution in both Ukraine and Switzerland on charges stemming from the financial operations which enriched him while he was in government. He has been abandoned by a part of the Dnipropetrovsk clan and by the Red parties which had only recently accepted him as an ally against President Leonid Kuchma. The Hromada congress and Lazarenko’s decision to abandon the presidential race are almost certainly the political swan song of both the party and Lazarenko.–VS
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