Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 90

As predicted, moderate rightists in Ukraine’s National Salvation Forum (NSF) have rejected the idea of a referendum to remove President Leonid Kuchma from office (see the Monitor, April 11). Outspoken oppositionist and NSF co-founder Former Deputy Premier Yulia Tymoshenko, speaking for the opposition as a whole after her release from prison a month ago, suggested changing tactics from seeking negotiations with Kuchma to launching a referendum to oust him. The NSF initially embraced the idea. But now it is divided. While left-wingers and centrists are apparently still enthusiastic, representatives of the right-wing Rukh and the Reforms and Order party are growing increasingly skeptical. This may be the beginning of the end of the NSF as an organization able to unite the wide spectrum of anti-Kuchma democratic forces.

On April 27, Tymoshenko founded what she called the “All-Ukrainian Headquarters for the Organization of a Referendum to Dismiss President Leonid Kuchma” which, she claimed, represented over fifty parties and NGOs. On May 2, the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) set up its own referendum headquarters. On May 3, the NSF met and approved a “formal” decision to launch the referendum. Two issues were approved: one on a no-confidence vote in Kuchma, and the other on a transition from the current presidential-parliamentary system of government to a parliamentary republic. The forum issued an appeal to “all citizens-patriots of Ukraine” to “unite to organize and conduct the referendum.” Extending Leonid Kuchma’s term of office as head of state, the statement read, “will have catastrophic consequences for Ukraine.”

Referendum organizers were promised support by the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine–an influential trade union based in the Donbas, which was the force behind the massive mining strikes of 1995-1996. Three million signatures are required for the referendum to meet the registration requirements of the Central Electoral Commission in Kyiv. Support of the miners from the 8-million strong Donbas region may be crucial.

The referendum initiative, however, apparently did not enjoy unanimous support within NSF. Reforms and Order representative Taras Stetskiv went so far as to describe the May 3 statement as “illegitimate,” pointing out that the meeting at which the decision was made was not attended by all members and describing the referendum as an initiative of Tymoshenko’s Motherland party, with SPU’s backing. Reforms and Order leader Viktor Pynzenyk said that last year’s constitutional referendum, which was never implemented, discredited the idea of any referendum (see the Monitor, April 4, 26, 2000).

Taras Chornovil of the Rukh was more outspoken. He explained that a failure of an NSF-launched referendum would put an end to the NSF itself. And chances of a failure are high: People would simply be afraid to sign against Kuchma, and the authorities might disrupt the referendum. He spoke disparagingly about the idea of curtailing presidential authority and called it the personal initiative of the SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz. He then spoke for preserving the presidential-parliamentary democracy in a Ukraine in transition. In a separate interview, he said that he would participate in such a referendum and vote against Kuchma.

The arguments of the NSF right-wingers are not devoid of common sense, but real reasons behind their caution lie elsewhere. Despite their declared opposition to Kuchma, both Rukh and Reforms and Order belong with the current regime. They are represented in the central and regional governments, and until the Rada voted no confidence in Premier Viktor Yushchenko late last month, they had been members of the pro-Kuchma Rada majority. Formally, they have not yet left the majority. The situation is different with Motherland and SPU, their opponents in the NSF. Tymoshenko’s Motherland has nothing to lose. All the bridges between it and Kuchma were burnt after Tymoshenko was dismissed from the government and then imprisoned on corruption charges earlier this year. SPU has kept its distance from both Kuchma’s cabinets and the pro-presidential Rada majority. The current NSF dispute is not merely a temporary misunderstanding over the anti-Kuchma referendum. It is a split probably set to grow into a chasm between the NSF center-left and its right wings (STB, May 3;, May 4; UNIAN, May 3-5; Zerkalo nedeli, May 5).

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