Ukraine’s Social Democratic United Party (SDPUo), the oligarchic party that gained the most from Leonid Kuchma’s second term in office, is now faced with a deep crisis that will ultimately be its undoing. Unfortunately for Viktor Medvedchuk, its leader and the former head of the presidential administration, there will be few tears shed for the SDPUo’s demise.
Since the drama surrounding Viktor Yushchenko’s presidential victory, the SDPUo’s parliamentary representation has declined from 39 to 23 deputies, one less than the Socialist Party (24), the first time the pro-Viktor Yushchenko Socialists have a larger faction. Its faction is now smaller than that of the Agrarians, whose leader, Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, gained from staying neutral in the elections.
The SDPUo’s decline is not simply in absolute terms but, more importantly, involves high-ranking leaders whose departure will encourage others to follow suit. The head of the State Committee for Construction and Architecture, Valeriy Cherep, Education Minister Vasyl Kremin, Minister of Labor Mykola Papiyev, and the head of the State Committee for Reserves Mykola Pesotskyi are all recent departures (sdpuo.org.ua, January 28).
Three factors account for the SDPUo’s rapid decline.
First, high-profile members were angered when Medvedchuk railroaded the SDPUo into announcing its “opposition” to President Yushchenko before he even had chance to publicly reveal his policies. The party itself seems unable to act in concert. While Medvedchuk insists that the SDPUo stands in “opposition” to Yushchenko, its parliamentary faction leader, Leonid Kravchuk, is promising support to Yushchenko and a free vote for Yulia Tymoshenko’s confirmation as prime minister (Ukrayinska pravda, January 20).
There is little optimism in the SDPUo’s ability to maintain itself as an opposition party as the SDPUo has neither a clear ideology nor any charismatic leaders. “Either they begin to support the new authorities and will become more Catholic than the Pope in its defense, or they will disintegrate as a party and disappear from the political map of Ukraine,” predicted Dmytro Vydryn, a campaign advisor to the defeated Viktor Yanukovych (Ukrayinska pravda, January 27).
Second, the SDPUo, like other centrist parties, has an artificial “social-democratic” ideology that merely masks a political roof (krysha) to support close, corrupt business ties to the executive branch. The Yushchenko-Yulia Tymoshenko tandem plans to separate business and politics and, without access to state resources, the SDPUo will find it impossible to continue to exist in its current form.
In January the SDPUo politburo announced 80 policy positions to buttress its claims to be in “opposition” (sdpuo.org.ua, January 28). These included opposition to any revision of constitutional reform, support for the creation of a coalition of “centrist and left-centrist forces,” and a populist hostility toward lower standards of living or reduced medical and educational facilities. The SDPUo continues to support Russia and the CIS Single Economic Space over Ukrainian membership in the EU, WTO, or NATO.
Third, SDPUo defectors seek to distance themselves from pending criminal charges against Medvedchuk and other leading SDPUo members for their involvement in election fraud and two assassination attempts against Yushchenko.
Although Medvedchuk is a liability to the SDPUo, its members cannot remove him, as he personifies the party and keeps it afloat. That he is a liability is not in doubt. In a recent survey all political parties or blocs obtain greater public support if their leaders’ names are added (i.e. Our Ukraine with Viktor Yushchenko). The only exception to this rule is the SDPUo; its support declines from 2.5% to 1.5% when Medvedchuk’s name is attached (Zerkalo nedeli, December 25).
Unlike three high-ranking Kuchma officials, Medvedchuk is refusing to leave Ukraine. He has also ruled out suicide, the option two others preferred. Always eager for a fight, Medvedchuk is also refusing to seek the safety of a parliamentary seat, where he would enjoy immunity until the 2006 elections.
Instead, Medvedchuk remains confident in his ability to evade prosecution. He publicly stated, much to the chagrin of other Ukrainian politicians, “I am a law-abiding citizen. I always was and will be.” As to election fraud, he continued, “It has yet to be proved that falsifications took place” (Ukrayinska pravda, January 26).
This is a curious comment, as parliament rejected the official results of the November 21 second round, which declared Yanukovych president, and the Supreme Court then annulled the results and ordered a re-run of round two. Our Ukraine deputy Viktor Korol sees Medvedchuk’s attempts at whitewashing himself as unlikely to work. “Mass fraud, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court and in parliament, is evidence of the deep intervention in the election process by state officials at all levels who are SDPUo members” (Razom.org.ua, January 28).
Nor is it just the Prosecutor’s Office that is planning to press charges against Medvedchuk. Kostyantin Grygoroshin, a Russian businessman operating in Ukraine, fell out with Medvedchuk. He was then set up by Interior Ministry officers, who planted narcotics and a gun on him. Grygoroshin has publicly stated his readiness to fight for the return of his businesses, which he believes were stolen by Medvedchuk.
Our Ukraine deputy Mykola Tomenko has asked the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate attempts to fan religious and inter-ethnic hatred during the elections. The principal channel for such efforts was Inter TV, the main channel still controlled by the SDPUo and broadcasting to eastern Ukraine.