Ukrainian Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has decided on the format of his participation in the March 2006 parliamentary polls. The much-advertised mega-bloc between Lytvyn, President Viktor Yushchenko’s People’s Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU), and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party has failed to materialize. Instead, Lytvyn has set up a small, separate bloc and boldly gave it his own name. Lytvyn’s People’s Party served as a safe harbor for many lieutenants of former president Leonid Kuchma immediately after the Orange Revolution. They are now using Lytvyn’s popularity and position to get into parliament, supplying resources for the campaign in exchange.
At his People’s Party (NP) convention on October 22, Lytvyn announced that the NP would go to the polls in a newly established People’s Bloc of Lytvyn. The NP’s junior partners in the bloc are the tiny left-wing Justice party of State TV and Radio Committee Chairman Ivan Chyzh and the obscure Ukrainian Democratic Party of Peasants. It had been widely expected that Lytvyn’s bloc would also be joined by the Republican Party of Yuriy Boyko, who managed the Naftohaz national oil and gas monopoly under Kuchma, and the Forward, Ukraine party of centrist MP Viktor Musiaka, but this did not happen. The two parties apparently were not happy with the positions offered to them on Lytvyn’s party-list ballot.
This is the very reason that Lytvyn refused to form a bloc with either the NSNU or Tymoshenko. Lytvyn told the NP convention that negotiations with the two parties stalled because he was slated to be a junior partner. Speaking earlier in an interview with Korrespondent, Lytvyn revealed that his talks with the NSNU never went beyond the stage of private conversations. And Tymoshenko only feigned a willingness to set up a bloc with Lytvyn in order to make Yushchenko happy when she was his subordinate as prime minister, MP Ihor Sharov, a key ally of Lytvyn, told Den.
Several public opinion polls conducted in September showed that 3-5% of Ukrainians are ready to vote for Lytvyn’s bloc. While this is a low figure, it should be enough to clear the existing 3% threshold to parliament, and even a 5% threshold, if Yushchenko and Tymoshenko succeed in raising the threshold to that level, as they plan. The only parties ahead of Lytvyn’s bloc are the undisputable leaders of the race — the parties of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, the Regions of Ukraine of presidential election loser Viktor Yanukovych, and the traditionally strong Communists and Socialists.
With five months remaining until the polls, Lytvyn has time to boost the popularity of his bloc. He has the resources for this, as his allies include many rich Ukrainians, such as parliamentarians Ihor Yeremeyev and Ihor Sharov, who are linked to the oil and gas industry, and “oligarchs” Oleksandr Yaroslavsky the (Kharkiv-based Ukrsibbank group) and Kuchma’s son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk (the Dnipropetrovsk-based Interpipe group). The former governors of Odessa and Mykolaiv are also in the People’s Party. With such people on board, Lytvyn has had enough resources to launch an expensive media campaign for his bloc. The bloc’s simple, non-ideological slogan, “We,” is now on billboards and TV screens across Ukraine.
Lytvyn, who sat on the fence during the Orange Revolution, positions himself as a potential partner for all — the authorities, the opposition, and even the Communists and other left-wing populists. In newspaper interviews and during public appearances, he stresses his “readiness for compromise” and “constructive dialogue” with all parties. Lytvyn professes no specific ideology and seeks to position his bloc as a “third force,” neither orange nor blue-and-white; his potential voters are Ukrainians who are either disappointed with the Yushchenko government or tired of the political turmoil of the last year.
Lytvyn’s past is his liability, just as is the case with most of his allies. He was just too close to Kuchma for his rivals to forgive. Lytvyn and Kuchma were together for a decade, beginning when Kuchma became president for the first time in 1994. Lytvyn was one of his aides, then his speechwriter, and then his chief of staff. In the 2002 parliamentary polls he headed Kuchma’s For a United Ukraine bloc, and became speaker the same year because Kuchma wanted him there.
Lytvyn’s weakest point is that he is suspected by many of involvement in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. He easily loses his composure when journalists or political opponents remind him of the recording allegedly made in Kuchma’s office by fugitive security officer Mykola Melnychenko, in which a voice resembling his own advises Kuchma to get rid of Gongadze. Lytvyn insists that this was a dirty fabrication. But until the murder of Gongadze is solved, this allegation will remain Lytvyn’s Achilles heel. Gongadze’s widow Myroslava recently accused Lytvyn of using his position to hamper the investigation, which he vehemently denied.
(UNIAN, October 20, 28; Glavred.info, October 21; Ukrayinska pravda, Korrespondent, October 22; Den, October 28)