Four political forces running in the nationwide constituency to fill 225 seats in Ukraine’s 450-member legislature (Verkhovna Rada) are sure to clear the 4-percent barrier in next Saturday’s vote. Other seats are to be filled from single-seat constituencies. About five more blocs and parties have good chances. The others among the thirty-three parties running, if opinion polls are to be trusted, are only wasting their time. This past weekend was the last time, according to Ukrainian election law, that results of nationwide opinion polls on the election could be made public. Several pollsters, citing contradictions in the legal definition of an opinion poll, said they would continue releasing their data until election day. But most agreed to stop after March 15.
All the pollsters, results of whose research conducted during the second week of March were published in mainstream media, agreed that Our Ukraine and the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) were running far ahead of all other competitors. Former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc–a motley group consisting of nationalists, liberals and free-riders cemented by Yushchenko’s popularity–is firmly in the lead. The polls gave it some 20-33 percent. Such a wide margin indicates the possibility that political interests might have gotten in the way of some polls’ objectivity. The CPU has secured the second spot, lagging 5-13 percent behind Our Ukraine. Only one polling agency among about ten–the All-Ukrainian Sociological Service (ASS)–forecast an equal outcome (20 percent) for Our Ukraine and the CPU.
The gap between the CPU and the third best runner–either the government-backed For United Ukraine (FUU) or the United Social Democratic Party (USDP), depending on the pollster–was at 7 to 12 percent. The FUU and the USDP–a group of Kyiv-based tycoons with ties in the government and a developed regional network–are sure to clear the 4-percent barrier, yet neither of them, with the sole exception of the ASS poll (12.5 percent to the FUU), scored more than 10 percent. The polls showed that the FUU’s chances are increasing as the race nears its close. The government machine and nationwide TV channels–with the exception of USDP-controlled Inter TV–are working almost exclusively for the FUU campaign. Most of the election-law violations registered by both domestic and foreign watchdogs have, perhaps predictably, worked in the FUU’s favor. But vast administrative resources are not the FUU’s sole advantage. The economic growth recorded in Ukraine over the past two years is credited by some voters, especially those in the countryside, to the government. And the government stands behind the FUU.
The Green Party, Women for the Future, Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc, the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) and Natalia Vitrenko’s bloc are in the gray zone. Pollsters noted that the popularity of the Greens–a party that professes an apolitical environmental ideology but has strong links to the Kuchma administration–has shrunk somewhat. Women for the Future–another reserve of the governing elite, backed by first lady Lyudmyla Kuchma–has seen its ratings dropping steeply. Several months ago, this group was among the favorites. But the two parties still have good chances of success. Their popular ratings hover at about 3-6 percent.
Pollsters have noted a growing popularity of Tymoshenko’s bloc and the SPU, who have built their campaigns on antagonism towards the governing elite. Recent accusations of corruption against Kuchma (see the Monitor, March 11) and the suspension of the ban on Tymoshenko’s travel outside Kyiv–Tymoshenko, accused of corruption by the Prosecutor General’s Office, is under investigation–have contributed to the upswing in the popularity of the two allied forces. Tymoshenko’s bloc scored 3-7 percent in the last opinion polls, and the SPU scored 2-3.5 percent.
What is behind the growing popularity of professed radical Marxist Natalia Vitrenko is something else again. After a series of campaign appearances on national television, Vitrenko’s ratings soured. The governing elite, however, as in the 1999 presidential election, is apparently (albeit covertly) supporting her. Her bloc is being used as a manageable alternative to the CPU, the SPU and, to a certain extent, Tymoshenko, to split the protest vote. Vitrenko’s bloc scored from 1.3 to 3.6 percent in the opinion polls in March (Ukrainian media, March 13-15).
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