NEW PARTY OF POWER: FACT OR CAMPAIGNING PLOY?

Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 35

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma will be invited to chair a new political party to be formed after the March 31 parliament (Verkhovna Rada) elections. This was announced on February 12 by the head of the For United Ukraine (FUU) election headquarters, Ivan Kyrylenko. FUU–which is made up of the People’s Democratic Party, Labor Ukraine, the Party of Regions, the Agrarian Party and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs–will be the building block of Ukraine’s next party of power. Figuring within its ranks are former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko, the Dnipropetrovsk elite, the Donetsk clan, and Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh.

The various FU parties have made various announcements of unification, but never before has such a prominent leadership been touted. Kuchma’s dim view of parties is widely known. His joining a party–even one he supports, even as an honorary chairman (as Kyrylenko suggested)–would mean a revolution of Kuchma’s views on political institutions.

Kyrylenko’s announcement was confirmed later the same day by Volodmyr Lytvyn, FUU leader and head of the presidential office. Speaking at a press conference after a trip to the Kremlin to discuss election plans, Lytvyn said that Kuchma had given his preliminary consent to heading the new party. This visit to Moscow, held at the height of the election campaign, is proof enough of Kyiv’s seeming to want to learn at Moscow’s knee. Ukraine’s ruling elite has certainly adopted the tactics of its Russian colleagues in the latest Duma elections. The Kuchma-backed FUU mirrors the Putin-backed Bear, and Communists are much the same in both countries. Petro Symonenko’s Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), despite its radical slogans, poses no real threat to the ruling establishment. Furthermore, Kuchma apparently regards it as a potential ally against the right-wing opposition. Lytvyn said at the same press conference that Ukraine’s pro-presidential forces may cooperate with the CPU in the Rada after the election. This is precisely what happened in Russia.

Like Putin, Kuchma is scarcely likely to join any party after the parliamentary elections. There is no reason why he should: Parties in Ukraine are weak and he is strong. Pro-presidential parties, furthermore, are unpopular. If they show well in the elections, it will be due only to the immense administrative resources at their disposal. Kyrylenko’s and Lytvyn’s statements are therefore probably no more than a campaign gimmick, a signal to local bureaucrats as to which bloc they should “organize” the vote for.

Asked on February 16 whether he would agree to chair the new party, Kuchma would not commit himself. But he did say, for the first time, who he would regard as his allies in the next Rada. Kuchma said that among his partners, besides the FUU, will be the Green Party, the Women for Future (a populist party reportedly linked to Kuchma’s wife, Lyudmyla), the United Social Democrats (chaired by Viktor Medvedchuk), and the Democratic Union (of Volodymyr Horbulin and Oleksandr Volkov). He did not name Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko’s Unity. Nor former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine. Why? Because Yushchenko refused to cooperate with the FUU, Kuchma said (Forum, February 12; New Channel TV, Studio 1+1 TV, February 12, 16).

[Correction: Yesterday’s Monitor item “Canadian Prime Minister In Moscow” erroneously stated that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will visit France at the end of this week. In fact, Ivanov’s visit to Paris took place on February 15.]

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