Ukraine’s parliamentary electoral race got underway officially on December 31, and the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) seems to be the first out of the starting gate. It has come up with a list of candidates to compete with lists of other parties in a single nationwide constituency, from which half of the seats in the parliament (Verkhovna Rada)–225, to be exact–will be filled. Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko is on this list. Ukraine will therefore soon have a new man in that post.
At its sixth congress in Kyiv on January 5-6, the CPU selected its candidates, among which the top ten were, predictably, party leader Petro Symonenko, the poet Borys Oliynyk, chairman of the Ukrainian Council of [WWII] Veterans Ivan Herasymov, and Oleksandr Tkachenko, Rada speaker in 1998-2000. Tkachenko is new to the CPU, having left the Peasant Party that he informally led just last year. Also in this first echelon is Oleg Blokhin, one of the country’s best soccer players. Soccer being Ukraine’s national and dearly loved sport, Blokhin’s presence at the top of the list seems a clear tipping of the CPU hat to the popular vote. The Communists are not, however, the first to bet on Blokhin’s popularity. In 1998, he was elected to the Rada on the list of former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko’s Hromada.
Leonid Hrach, leader of the Crimea’s Communists, came in at the Number 11 spot. He is not likely to swap his seat as Crimean parliament speaker to serve as an ordinary deputy in Kyiv. Furthermore, such a relatively low position on the list is both a fair indication of but a slim chance for a man with presidential aspirations, and an indisputable sign of tension between him and Symonenko (both highly ambitious politicians).
Mykhaylo Potebenko came in at Number 20. His seat seems guaranteed, however. Opinion polls show stable support for the CPU at 15-20 percent, which means that some 70 to 120 people from its list are likely to get through to the Rada. When elected, Potebenko will have to relinquish the prosecutor general’s chair, which he apparently will not consider much of a loss. After being accused of mishandling the investigation into the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze during the audiotape scandal early last year, Potebenko submitted his resignation several times. But President Leonid Kuchma refused to either accept it or dismiss him. Potebenko’s dismissal, Kuchma claimed, was merely a ploy by those Rada deputies who wanted to clear the way for their own escape from prosecution for corruption.
Ukrainian law requires that Potebenko leave the prosecutor general’s chair once he is elected, that is, after March 31. Kuchma has apparently decided, however, that this should happen earlier rather than later. On January 5-6, New Channel and Ukrainska Pravda, quoting unnamed sources, reported that Kuchma had replaced Potebenko with Kyiv Prosecutor Yury Haysynsky. The United Social Democratic Party (USDP) has reportedly long been pushing for this. Haysynsky is a protege of USDP leader Viktor Medvedchuk.
Potebenko has long sympathized with the Communists, though remaining loyal to Kuchma. The CPU faction, despite its opposition to Kuchma, saved Potebenko from a no-confidence vote in the Rada on several occasions. Symonenko attested to this in an interview on December 13. And, in the same interview, he indicated that Potebenko might be included in the CPU election list. The fact that Kuchma found a replacement to Potebenko almost immediately–and it often takes him weeks to fill vacancies at the top–shows that the president had decided Potebenko’s fate beforehand and, quite probably, in league with the CPU leaders, who also rarely act spontaneously (Silski Visti, December 13, 2001; Ukrainska Pravda, Part.org.ua, January 5; New Channel TV, January 5-6; Forum, January 6; see the Monitor, January 3).
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