For United Ukraine (FUU), a bloc formed by the administration of President Leonid Kuchma for the country’s parliamentary elections of March 2002, has finally come up with a candidate for its leadership: Volodymyr Lytvyn, currently head of the presidential office.
The FUU–which is made up of four centrist parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Labor Ukraine (LU), the Ukrainian Party of Regions (UPR) and the Agrarian Party of Ukraine (APU)–was formed this past summer. Yet these parties’ leaders, equally ambitious and, at the same time, equally unpopular, found it difficult to decide who among them leads the bloc. At long last they agreed that the best choice would be someone from outside. Premier Anatoly Kinakh, former Premier Viktor Yushchenko and Kiev Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko were discussed as possibilities. Kuchma, however, opposed the idea of Kinakh joining the race, and Yushchenko and Omelchenko formed their own blocs and refused to merge them with the FUU. Meanwhile, the bloc was suffering from internal squabbles and a lack of common strategy (see the Monitor, September 11, 15, 28, October 15). Opinion polls predicted a poor showing in the elections.
On November 15, the leaders of the FUU parties–Valery Pustovoytenko of the PDP, Serhy Tyhypko of the LU, Mykola Azarov of the UPR and Mykhaylo Hlady of the APU–announced that Lytvyn had accepted their proposal to head the bloc. According to Tyhypko, Kuchma gave his blessing on the choice. “Even if Lytvyn has to leave the presidential office to work in the bloc, we can expect support and understanding from the president on this matter,” Tyhypko said. Reticent Lytvyn has not yet publicly confirmed his acceptance. And it is hard to imagine Kuchma parting with his right hand man in matters of domestic politics quite so readily. Yet the deal looks certain.
If Lytvyn leaves his current position to become FUU’s official leader, it can be taken as a sure sign that Kuchma has placed all his bets on this bloc. It would also mean that Lytvyn is probably slated for the role of leader of pro-Kuchma forces in the next parliament. Domestic analysts suspect that Lytvyn has a far-reaching goal–to run in the presidential elections of 2004 as the candidate of power. Kuchma, after all, cannot run again. Ukraine’s constitution caps the presidential run at two terms in office. Kuchma is now in his second.
Lytvyn, 45, a career apparatchik, is believed to be among very few who enjoy Kuchma’s full trust. He has been on Kuchma’s staff since 1994–as a speech writer, as the first deputy head and, since the 1999 presidential elections, as the head of the presidential office. He was also one of the opposition’s main targets in the Melnychenko tape scandal of late last year: His was allegedly one of the voices participating in the discussion on the kidnapping of journalist Georgy Gongadze, who was found murdered some months after his disappearance in the autumn of 2000 (see the Monitor, December 13, 2000). However, unlike Interior Minister Yury Kravchenko or Security Service head Leonid Derkach, Lytvyn emerged from the scandal unscathed.
Despite his organizational skills and good relations with Kuchma, Lytvyn is not the ideal candidate–given that he has no party affiliation, no experience in parliament and has never been a politician per se–to head a political coalition in a country with strong democratic traditions. Although he is respected among politicos and journalists, Lytvyn is virtually unknown to the general public, thus can scarcely add popularity to any party or bloc. But in Ukraine, having Lytvyn on board is an asset. The FUU is one of the pro-government blocs, along with those of Yushchenko and Omelchenko. Kuchma’s delegating his key assistant to the FUU is a clear indicator of presidential favor. It also means that the power machine, including the state-run and the oligarch-controlled media, the local authorities and law enforcement agencies will campaign, openly or covertly, for this bloc. With Lytvyn, the FUU bets not on popularity, but on the infamous “administrative resource”–the power levers of Ukraine (Forum, Ukrainska Pravda, STB TV, November 15).
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