The Party of Regions of Ukraine (PRU) of Viktor Yanukovych, who was Viktor Yushchenko’s main opponent in last year’s presidential election, has come up with its list for the March 26 parliamentary elections. Unlike Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine or Yulia Tymoshenko’s party, the PRU will run in the election alone, without forming any blocs. Based on the party’s list for the polls, made public on December 3, the Party of Regions is not worried about its image as the party of essentially one region – representatives of the Donbas dominate the list. Almost all the leaders of the local business community are on the list, including Renat Akhmetov, probably Ukraine’s most influential tycoon, who is making his debut in electoral politics.
The PRU has overcome the serious identity crisis caused by Yushchenko’s victory and Yanukovych’s defeat in the presidential race. Half a year ago, the party was on the brink of demise and unsure whether it would remain an opposition party at all. Yanukovych was hardly heard or seen, apparently abandoned by Akhmetov, who had been generally viewed as his campaign’s main financier, while the PRU’s Donetsk branch leader, Borys Kolesnikov, was in custody over extortion charges.
The nation’s disappointment with the results of the Orange Revolution and the squabbles inside the Orange team that resulted in a split between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko eventually played into the hands of the PRU. The party has not lost its popularity in the east and south, but its main rivals lost the overwhelming trust of the west and center. As a result, the PRU has been leading public opinion polls for the past several months with 16-19% popularity, with the Yushchenko and Tymoshenko blocs each lagging 3-6% points behind. This has prompted many opponents of the new regime to bet on Yanukovych again.
Initially Yanukovych and his allies contemplated a bloc, possibly with the United Social Democrats (SDPUo) of former presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk. But further into the campaign, aware of their strength, they abandoned this idea. Other ideologically close parties were invited to join Yanukovych, but on the conditions of their disbandment and dilution in the PRU. This was out of the question for the SDPUo; former chief prosecutor Henady Vasylyev’s Derzhava and former energy chief Vitaly Boyko’s Republican Party did not accept this condition either. But former Kharkiv governor Yevhen Kushnaryov’s New Democracy did, and Kushnaryov was awarded with the number 11 slot on the PRU’s list for the election.
After the revolution, Kushnaryov was charged with embezzlement and briefly imprisoned. The Yushchenko government also holds him responsible for separatist threats during the revolution. Kushnaryov is not an anomaly. The PRU’s list is full of former officials who may have problems with the law. Along with Kushnaryov, other “separatists” on the list include Kolesnikov and Luhansk regional council head Viktor Tykhonov. Former Central Electoral Commission chief Serhy Kivalov is on the list, as is former Yanukovych campaign aide Andriy Kluyev. Both have been openly accused by the teams of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko of organizing the falsification of the presidential election’s second round last year.
Representatives of the Donbas (which comprises Donetsk and Luhansk Regions), mostly businessmen, dominate the top 60 positions on the PRU list. Given the party’s lead in the campaign, their election to parliament is probably guaranteed. The highest position among the businessmen on the list, number seven, went to Akhmetov, the main shareholder of System Capital Management – a company that controls most of Donetsk Region’s heavy industry and has assets in central Europe.
Unlike most other Ukrainian “oligarchs,” Akhmetov has never sat in parliament before; he shuns the press and avoids speaking on politics in public. For several months Akhmetov hesitated about whether to run for parliament and which party to back. At some point he reportedly supported Labor Ukraine of Donetsk MP Valery Konovalyuk, a defector from the PRU. But the PRU’s popularity eventually convinced him to return to Yanukovych.
Naturally for an opposition party, the PRU’s list does not include many current officials. But there are some, all of them from the east and south. Apart from Kolesnikov, who heads the Donetsk regional council, and his Luhansk colleague Tykhonov, these are Anti-Monopoly Committee chief Oleksiy Kostusyev, who is a representative of the Odessa regional elite, and Crimean parliament speaker Borys Deych. The inclusion of another Crimean representative, Ukrainian ombudswoman Nina Karpachova, was a sensation. She is number two on the list, right behind Yanukovych, and the only woman among the top 20. Another sensation was the appearance on the PRU list of former Prosecutor-General Sviatoslav Piskun, who Yushchenko ditched in October over lack of loyalty (Piskun started to play on Tymoshenko’s side) and inability to solve high-profile cases, including the September 2000 murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see EDM, November 7).
(5 Kanal, November 19, December 3; Ukrayinska pravda, November 25, December 3; Ostro.org, November 30; Obkom.net.ua, December 3)