Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 212

According to preliminary returns, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma won reelection to a second five-year term with a fairly comfortable advance over Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko in yesterday’s runoff. Symonenko fought the runoff as the standard bearer of an alliance of left-socialist and pro-Russian political forces, on a platform which harkened back to the Soviet past.

The defeat of leftist and East-oriented forces does not ipso facto signify the victory of democracy, reforms and Euro-atlanticism in Ukraine, however. Kuchma’s reelection simply preserves Ukraine’s chance to move toward those goals, which have by and large eluded the country and the Kuchma presidency during his first term of office. A Red victory would have reversed the advances made since independence in terms of Western-oriented foreign and military policies, political desovietization, macroeconomic transformations and the rebirth of Ukrainian national identity amid tranquil interethnic relations.

Kuchma’s second electoral mandate, if exploited skillfully and promptly, can become the basis for political consensus-building to extend the scope of reforms and accelerate their pace. In the absence of such consensus–as the experience of Kuchma’s first term suggests–the government will hardly be in a position to deliver on its declared reformist agenda. Meanwhile, however, the Communists and other leftist parties dominate the parliament, elections for which are not due until 2002. Having failed to capture the presidential office, the Red parties now promise to redouble parliamentary resistance to reforms, using their control of the legislative process to thwart the government’s program. Kuchma intends to deal with the legislative obstruction by calling a referendum to amend the constitution and create a bicameral parliament, one of whose chambers would in effect consist mainly of presidential nominees. The stage seems set for another debilitating conflict between the executive branch and the legislature’s leftist leadership. This time, the conflict is likely to be accompanied by a revolt of the nonleftist half of the parliament against the Red parties’ stranglehold on legislation and virtual monopoly on the parliamentary leadership posts.

Kuchma’s victory over the Communists and their allies was made possible in the first place by a no-holds-barred anticommunist strategy (UNIAN, UT-1, DINAU, November 7-14; see the Monitor, October 29).