The youth group Pora (It’s Time), which played an important role in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in November-December 2004, is set to contest the March 2006 parliamentary elections in an alliance with the Reforms and Order (RiP) party (pora.org.ua).
The once united Orange coalition will now enter the elections divided among five blocs and parties. These include President Viktor Yushchenko’s Peoples Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU), the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc, Pora-RiP, the Yuriy Kostenko bloc, and the Socialist Party (SPU). It remains to be seen whether contesting the elections through five political forces will attract additional votes or split Orange voters.
The hard-line opposition forces are primarily united around defeated presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine, which is leading in opinion polls. The only other hard-line opposition force set to enter parliament will be the Communist Party (KPU), which will likely tie the SPU for seats.
The fragmented Orange coalition is undoubtedly a failure for President Yushchenko, who sought to maintain Orange unity through a strong pro-presidential party. Only two small parties, Solidarity and the Youth Party, opted to merge with NSNU. One wing of Rukh joined the NSNU bloc while another created its own bloc.
Opinion polls consistently show that only six blocs will definitely win seats in the new parliament: NSNU, Tymoshenko, SPU, KPU, Regions, and Speaker of Parliament Volodymyr Lytvyn’s bloc. Two potential outsiders that could make it over the low 3% threshold are the newly created Pora-RiP bloc and the Natalia Vitrenko bloc (composed of the extreme left Progressive Socialist Party and the Soiuz party).
Pora-RiP will target two groups of voters. First, Pora-RiP will compete with the Tymoshenko bloc for disgruntled Orange voters. Second, the bloc may attract young people who were especially active and came of age during the 2004 elections and the Orange Revolution. Nevertheless, a word of caution is in order.
In the 1998 elections the Green Party successfully targeted young people and entered parliament with 5.43%, even though it was financed by oligarchs who are now backing the Tymoshenko bloc. In the 2002 elections the Winter Crop Generation party, modeled on Russia’s Union of Right Forces, failed to enter parliament after obtaining only 2.02%. Pora-RiP could obtain support in the same constituency as the Greens in 1998 or the Lytvyn bloc next year, about 5-7%.
RiP is a long-established party that grew out of Rukh in the 1990s. The Pora-RiP bloc has a number of well-known and respected individuals in its top ten, who should ensure its popularity. RiP’s leader is Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk. Volodymyr Filenko and Taras Stetskiv, also on the list, were the intermediaries between Yushchenko’s election headquarters and the organizers of the street protests and tent city on the Maidan. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, another NSNU-Maidan intermediary, was tempted to join the Pora-RiP bloc but has opted to remain on the SPU ticket.
Serhiy Taran, head of the Reporters without Frontiers Kyiv office, and Pora leaders Vladyslav Kaskiv and Yevhen Zolotariov are also well known. These Pora leaders belong to the wing of Pora commonly referred to as “yellow Pora” because of the color of their symbols.
The other wing, “black Pora,” condemned the yellow wing’s creation of a Pora political party, noting that after Serbia’s Otpor (Resistance) group established a party, failed to enter parliament.
The head of the Pora-Rip list is Vitaliy Klichko, a world-class boxer. Klichko explained that he wants to help young people to enter parliament — individuals “who never figured in corruption scandals” (Ukrayinska pravda, December 13). This was a clear reference to the September accusations that rocked Yushchenko’s entourage. “It is pleasant to stand together with people who have clean hands,” Klichko commented.
In the 2004 Ukrainian elections, as in earlier democratic revolutions in Serbia and Georgia, youth sought to pressure their elders to unite the opposition in order to successfully oppose the regime. The Pora-RiP bloc also wants to reunite the Orange coalition into a new, pro-Yushchenko parliamentary majority in the new parliament.
This strategy arises out of two fears.
First, as Filenko warned, “Our aim is also to slap on the wrists those who are thinking about joining with Yanukovych,” (Ukrayinska pravda, December 12). This threat refers to the September memorandum signed by Yushchenko with Yanukovych as well as opposition within the Yushchenko camp to Tymoshenko’s return as prime minister.
Second, the democrats fear the threat posed by the “revenge” of former president Leonid Kuchma’s regime through a victory by Regions of Ukraine. The threat of “revenge” was outlined in alarmist tones by Ihor Zhdanov, first deputy head of the central executive committee of NSNU (Ukrayinska pravda, December 8).
Zhdanov called for unity within the Orange camp to fend off Regions of Ukraine. What he ignores is that the threat exists because Yushchenko has failed to honor his oft-repeated 2004 campaign pledge that “bandits would sit in prison.”
A new Pora leaflet pointedly asks, “Why are they not sitting [in prison]?” alongside portraits of Yanukovych and other senior Kuchma officials. The Tymoshenko bloc will therefore not be the only force to draw support from the radical wing of the Orange camp.
All of the senior Kuchma-era officials who participated in abuse of office and election fraud appear on the Regions of Ukraine 2006 list, as none of them have been charged. They could obtain immunity after Regions of Ukraine enters next year’s parliament.
As Zhdanov pointed out, the 2006 elections should, in reality, be seen as the fourth round of the 2004 elections. The Orange Revolution will succeed or fail depending on the outcome. Yet again, Pora will play a central role.