Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 207

The first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on October 31 produced–as predicted (see the Monitor, October 22, 29)–an aggregate Red vote substantially exceeding that cast for President Leonid Kuchma and catapulted the Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko to the runner-up position, leading to a Kuchma-Symonenko runoff on November 14.

The first-round official returns, issued on November 4, show that Kuchma received 36.5 percent of the valid votes. On the leftist side, Symonenko received 22.2 percent, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz 11.3 percent and the Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko 11 percent. On the national-democratic or “right-wing” side, Yury Kostenko and Hennady Udovenko–each leading one faction of the divided Rukh–received 2.2 and 1.2 percent, respectively. Rukh’s once massive and highly motivated electorate demonstrated its disenchantment with the squabbling Rukh leaders and proved responsive to Kuchma’s and former Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk’s stress on anticommunism and national statehood. The protean Marchuk, who had entered the contest as the exponent of “left-centrism,” only to swerve late in the campaign toward “right-centrism” and the outright right, finished with 8.1 percent. Half a dozen other candidates received less than 1 percent each. The turnout, 70.15 percent, was relatively high.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and other monitoring groups assessed the first-round balloting as “peaceful and orderly,” with only “minor irregularities” which reflected inexperience or poor organization rather than fraud, and which did not affect the outcome. The observers, however, criticized the authorities’ conduct of the pre-election campaign, citing the state media’s partisanship for the incumbent president, pressures upon opposition media on the part of the authorities, and involvement of state officials and institutions in electioneering for Kuchma. For these reasons the conduct of the campaign fell short of a number of OSCE and PACE standards, the preliminary assessments said.

The first-round results have accentuated the polarization between Red and anticommunist forces. The communists, socialists and progressive socialists have garnered a total of 44.5 percent of the vote, as against the 36.5 for Kuchma and 3.3 for Rukh’s two wings. The election’s outcome and Ukraine’s future as a nation now depend to an uncomfortable extent on whether the Red candidates manage to join forces in the runoff and to marshal their voters behind Symonenko.

The Socialist Party and the ultraleftist Progressive Socialist Party have, each, offered to support Symonenko conditionally. The socialists demand the formation of an anti-Kuchma coalition, based on a detailed political contract which would take effect in the event of Symonenko’s victory and for the duration of his mandate. That contract would include a program of the postelection, leftist government, as well as powersharing arrangements casting the Socialist Party and its leader Moroz in a prominent role. The progressive socialists, for their part, want Symonenko to pledge to appoint Vitrenko as prime minister in the event of victory. Vitrenko thus far rules out cooperation with Moroz, her long-time rival on the left, whom she regards as insufficiently radical; she seems in effect to be asking Symonenko to choose either of them as an ally for the runoff and beyond.

On the right, Udovenko’s Rukh has promptly and predictably announced its support for Kuchma in the runoff, but Udovenko’s ally, the Party of Reform and Order, hastened to declare its neutrality between Kuchma and the communists. Kostenko’s wing offers to support Kuchma in the runoff provided that he pledges to: (1) introduce private ownership of the land, (2) launch genuine economic and administrative reforms, (3) “apply for admission of Ukraine to NATO,” (4) “introduce a national-patriotic personnel policy,” (5) “eliminate discrimination against the Ukrainian language” [implying regulation of the public use of Russian], and (6) speed up the creation of a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church [implying a merger of the Moscow-controlled church with the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church into a single national church]. These proposals’ merits and feasibility differ widely from case to case. Some of the measures are overdue, others hardly lend themselves to enforcement from above, and most of them would at this stage–given Ukraine’s political realities–ensure Kuchma’s defeat, should he make such pledges ahead of the November 14 runoff against Symonenko.

Marchuk, with his pivotal 8 percent share of the electorate, seems well placed to arbitrate the runoff. Kuchma and Marchuk are both hinting that they might cooperate in stopping the left’s march to power. That would presuppose overcoming their acrimonious rivalry dating back to 1996, when Kuchma dismissed Marchuk as prime minister to curb the latter’s presidential ambitions. Their reconciliation in the national interest is feasible, as suggested by the relationship that has developed between Kuchma and his one-time bitter rival, former President Leonid Kravchuk, in the common interest of resisting a communist comeback. Kuchma is now more than ever building his campaign on the theme of defending Ukraine against the Red revanche. Even as Symonenko, Moroz and other leftists celebrated the Bolshevik Revolution’s anniversary on November 7, the president used the occasion to remind Ukrainian voters of the inhumanity of communism and to caution them against risking a return to that system on November 14 (UNIAN, STB-TV, Vechirny Kyiv, Den, DINAU, Ukrainian TV-1, November 1-7; see Marchuk, Symonenko and Udoveko profiles in the Monitor, July 1, September 1, 17).