Opposition Divided Ahead Of Ukrainian Presidential Elections

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 46

One day after the Ukrainian presidential elections officially started on July 3, four major candidates filed their papers with the Central Election Commission. The oligarchic regional clans and political parties of the pro-presidential camp have united behind Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. His own Party of Regions, the “party of power” that totally dominates the Donbas, endorsed Yanukovych at their weekend congress in Zaporizhzhia.

In contrast, the opposition will field three presidential candidates: Viktor Yushchenko (supported by the populist Yulia Tymoshenko bloc), Petro Symonenko (Communist Party [KPU]), and Oleksandr Moroz (Socialist Party [SPU]). Will this disunity and rivalry prevent one of the three opposition candidates from defeating Yanukovych?

Recent elections illustrate the advantages of a united opposition. In Yugoslavia the opposition finally succeeded in defeating Slobodan Milosevic in the Yugoslav presidential elections after a decade of disarray. In October 2000 they overcame their differences and the 18 parties united under the umbrella Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). Their candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, won 50.4 percent of the vote in the first round. The only major opposition party not included in DOS was Vuk Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement. In Georgia’s 2003 and March 2004 parliamentary elections, the opposition was less united than its counterparts in Serbia. At the same time, Mikhail Saakashvili’s National Movement-Democratic Front, which closely resembles the Tymoshenko bloc, and Nino Burjanadze’s bloc, whose position is similar to Yushchenko’s, faced fewer domestic opponents than does Yushchenko in October.

While the Saakashvili-Burjanadze alliance did not face off against a hostile Communist Party, the Tymoshenko-Yushchenko alliance faces a KPU equally hostile to both the alliance and the authorities. Georgia’s Labor Party resembles the Socialist Party of Ukraine, and both stood in the Georgian and Ukrainian elections separate from the Saakashvili-Burjanadze and the Tymoshenko-Yushchenko alliances.

Ultimately, the Socialist candidate, Moroz, will be the kingmaker in this year’s Ukrainian elections. Moroz as a joint “Left” candidate would ensure the Left a place in the second round. Together, Moroz and Symonenko are polling at about 23-25%, higher than Yanukovych’s 15-17%.

The combined Left vote (KPU, SPU, and Progressive Socialists) in Ukraine ranges between 30.07% at its lowest in the 2002 elections, to 44.50% in the first round of the 1999 elections. Moroz came third in the 1999 elections with 11.29%, and the SPU third in 1998 and fifth in the 2002 elections, with 8.56% and 6.87% respectively.

The KPU has repeatedly shrugged off proposals from the SPU to back Moroz as the joint candidate of the Left. As the “senior” party, the KPU would never agree to back a candidate from its “younger brother,” the SPU.

As the sole candidate of the KPU, the uncharismatic and neo-Stalinist Symonenko is destined to lose any presidential elections he contests. In the 1999 elections, he obtained 22.24% percent in the first round then lost in the second with only 37.80%. Most of Leonid Kuchma’s 56.25% winning votes in the second round of the 1999 elections came from Ukrainians voting against the KPU. Such a negative vote against the Communists would not be possible if the moderate Socialist and derzhavnyk Moroz was the joint Left candidate.

Unable to obtain the KPU’s backing for a joint Left candidate, Moroz also refused to follow Tymoshenko and back the Yushchenko camp. Moroz was personally angry with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko for not supporting compromises on constitutional reforms that Moroz ended up backing in parliamentary votes in April and in June. If a Moroz-Yushchenko-Tymoshenko alliance had been successfully negotiated, they could have ostensibly repeated the opposition’s victory in the 2000 Yugoslav elections in round one. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have a “hard core” support base of 35%. Moroz’s additional support of 8-11%, based on his and the SPU’s votes in earlier elections, might have tipped the total past 50% in round one.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have not ruled out Moroz joining them. In a joint appeal, they advised Moroz, “Today much depends on you: whether we can achieve that level of unity of all democratic forces of Ukraine” (Ukrayinska pravda, July 2).

The authorities are clearly afraid of Moroz aligning himself with Yushchenko-Tymoshenko. Last weekend 300,000 fake leaflets circulated in Eastern Ukraine and claimed to be from “Moroz.” In a new twist, the leaflets accused Yushchenko of being an “agent of the Kremlin and Russian capital” (Ukrayinska pravda, July 2 and 3).

Like the Burjanadze-Saakashvili bloc in Georgia, the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko alliance will attract broad support from both moderate and populist opposition to the authorities. The Tymoshenko bloc placed fourth in the 2002 elections with 7.26 %, up from the 4.67% obtained by its “mother” party, Hromada, in the 1998 elections. Support for the Tymoshenko bloc resembles that given to the current Minister of Defense, Yevhen Marchuk, who ran on an anti-Kuchma populist platform in the 1999 elections and placed fifth with 8.13%. Marchuk’s 1999 election campaign was backed by the same parties that today are members of the Tymoshenko bloc. Tymoshenko’s alliance with Yushchenko is already radicalizing his election rhetoric. Yushchenko’s mild criticism of the authorities, despite numerous provocations against him, turned many of his potential supporters away. This was most likely a factor in freezing his support at 21-25% since the 2002 elections.

Yushchenko has abandoned his mild manner. Now he has called for “bandits” to be imprisoned after the elections, re-opening shady privatization deals, eliminating criminal elements from the security forces, and taking television stations away from oligarchs. At a July 4 rally in Kyiv, Yushchenko told the 50,000 participants, “The criminal government is to blame for all of this. Today citizens are not free in their own country, they are unprotected against the whims of the bureaucrats, tax inspectors, militia, and the procurators” (yushchenko.com.ua).

With two Left candidates standing in October, neither will likely garner enough votes to advance to round two. This may make it impossible for Yushchenko to win in round one, meaning he would be forced into a run-off with Yanukovych.

This calculus would only change if Moroz dropped his candidacy and backed Yushchenko. Alternatively, Yushchenko’s campaign could gather sufficient momentum by attracting members of the ruling elites not enamored of Yanukovych. In the 1994 elections the incumbent, Leonid Kravchuk, was defeated by the treachery of officials who defected to Kuchma, giving him a 6% margin of victory. Will Ukrainian history repeat itself in October?