Ukraine’s most popular politician, former Premier Viktor Yushchenko, is near to finalizing his Our Ukraine bloc in preparation for the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2002. On October 8, representatives of six parties signed a formal agreement establishing the bloc. Among them were Reforms and Order, the Liberal Party, Solidarity, the Rural Democratic Party, the Christian Popular Union and the two arms of the former Rukh (the similarly named People’s Movement of Ukraine and Ukrainian People’s Movement). Yushchenko said that he would keep the doors open for all other parties “working in Ukraine’s national interest,” but apparently not too wide and not for too long. Pragmatic considerations demand some selectivity. The line is long at the Our Ukraine door. According to various polls, only the Communists can compete with it in popularity.
One right-wing group conspicuous by its absence at the signing of the October 8 agreement was the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (CUN). At the top of that group’s agenda is denial of everything Russian, which poses a problem in Ukraine’s densely populated east and southeast, home to the majority of the country’s 10 or so million ethnic Russians. The vote from that area is crucial to Yushchenko, who hopes to become a leader on a national scale. But CUN risks slipping into political oblivion without Yushchenko. CUN leader Slava Stetsko admitted in a recent newspaper interview that her party, standing alone, may not even qualify to participate in the elections. On October 18, Stetsko reportedly reached a political agreement with Yushchenko, but the format of CUN’s participation in Our Ukraine remains to be clarified.
Another question mark is the pro-presidential Liberal Party (LPU). Many an eyebrow was raised at the prospect of its participation in Our Ukraine. LPU is small, but its leader, Volodymyr Shcherban, is the governor of a key Northern industrial region, Sumy. Those votes would therefore be a certainty for the bloc. The drawback, however, is that Shcherban’s voice was among those allegedly recorded last year in the presidential office by President Leonid Kuchma’s former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko. Publication of several of those records ignited what might be the worst of Ukraine’s many political scandals late last year. If the authenticity of Melnychenko’s tapes were proven, Yushchenko’s rivals would have grounds to accuse him of association with a corrupt official. But, as it turns out, Yushchenko has nothing to fear in this respect. On October 13 the LPU governing body announced that it would join the presidential bloc United Ukraine instead.
The participation of Solidarity in Our Ukraine means that United Ukraine’s largest party, state tax administration chief Mykola Azarov’s Party of Regions (UPR), is losing its left wing and one of its two factions in the Rada. Solidarity formally joined UPR early this year (see the Monitor, March 28), but its leader, chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko, has de facto conducted independent policies, and his faction in parliament remained independent from the UPR. Solidarity’s “divorce” from the UPR is now apparently only a matter of time. Thus Yushchenko’s tactics of chopping at the centrist camp (see the Monitor, September 28) is now bearing its first fruit. On October 18, Poroshenko was appointed head of Yushchenko’s election headquarters–a position initially assigned to Roman Bezsmertny, President Leonid Kuchma’s permanent representative in the Rada.
Bezsmertny moved to another key position in Our Ukraine, that of the political coordinator for negotiations with more parties striving for membership in Yushchenko’s bloc. The fact that Kuchma’s right hand in the Rada will be responsible for the formation of Our Ukraine is a strong indication that Kuchma is pulling the strings of Our Ukraine.
Two another signatories to the October 8 agreement, the Rural Democratic Party (RDP) and the Christian Popular Union (CPU) are tiny, but–as parties with distinct ideological preferences–they may add legitimacy to Our Ukraine’s claim to represent the whole nation. The CPU are close in their views to the Christian Democrats in Europe. The RDP is a populist party oriented towards rural dwellers in West Ukraine. Ukrainian Deputy Premier for Agriculture Leonid Kozachenko is the RDP informal leader, according to the Zerkalo Nedeli weekly (Ukrainska Pravda, October 8; Zerkalo Nedeli, October 13; Unian, October 15; Den, October 16; STB TV, October 18; see the Monitor, October 5, 15).
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