On October 19, Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former deputy prime minister for energy and current harsh critic of the government, gathered the public organizations supporting her bloc, National Salvation Forum (NSF), in Kyiv. The meeting was designed to be a demonstration of force of the NSF, which claims to be the only nonleftist radical opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. The NSF, a broad umbrella behind the popular anti-Kuchma protests early this year, has since turned into Tymoshenko’s personal electoral tool, other popular politicians distancing themselves from it for either lack of trust in Tymoshenko or fear of reprisals.
If Tymoshenko wanted to impress Ukraine with sheer numbers of followers, she did not succeed. It was announced that over 2,000 delegates representing 506 public organizations were present (the meeting was not meant for political parties). But only about fifteen of those reportedly had nationwide status. The rest were no more than small groups or regional branches of bigger organizations. The motley crowd included such exotic organizations as the Union of Deceived Depositors and Shareholders and the Association of Homeless Officers, to mention just a few. The Independent Union of Coal Miners (IUCM) and the Anti-Mafia group deserve mentioning as organizations known to the Ukrainian public. Yet the IUCM, which was behind the impressive mining strikes of 1995-1996, is now on the verge of a break-up, and Anti-Mafia remains essentially a closed club of opposition-minded former KGB officers.
Tymoshenko used the occasion to deliver a statement, which was interpreted by many as the first public declaration of her presidential aspiration. “Vote for the person who you want to become the next Ukrainian president,” she told the gathering. It may well be too early for such declarations, given that the next presidential elections are scheduled for 2004. Tymoshenko’s ambitions aside, the NSF obviously has problems with its parliamentary election campaign. It is still far from becoming the broad coalition of the non-Communist opposition Tymoshenko would like it to be. Her former boss, ex-Premier Viktor Yushchenko, refused to take the NSF under his wing (see the Monitor, October 5). Tymoshenko may now also be losing her key ally, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. A month ago, she was quoted as saying that there would be no union with Moroz if a broad coalition with Yushchenko failed. Now that a coalition with Yushchenko is out of the question, Tymoshenko apparently wants Moroz back. On October 19, she announced that Moroz had agreed to join the National Salvation Forum. Yet there has been no confirmation from Moroz himself so far.
Meanwhile, presidential forces are chopping at Tymoshenko’s party, Motherland. On October 18, the Motherland branch in Donetsk, Ukraine’s most densely populated region, announced that it was seceding from the NSF and joining the presidential bloc United Ukraine. Donetsk is the stronghold of informal leader of United Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, who also happens to be chief of the omnipotent State Tax Administration. It is therefore not difficult to guess who might have been behind the Donetsk secession. Motherland also stands to lose the budget committee in parliament–the only committee it still controls. Azarov’s Ukrainian Regions faction and the United Social Democrats have gathered 156 signatures in parliament to back the draft motion to dismiss the committee’s chairman, Oleksandr Turchynov. This is enough to introduce this motion on the agenda. Turchynov is Tymoshenko’s right hand in Motherland (Part.org.ua, October 18; Ukrainska Pravda, Unian, October 19; Versii.com, October 22; Vecherny Vesti, October 23).
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