Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 95

The presidential campaign in Ukraine entered a decisive stage on May 14 as the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) launched official registration of candidates for nomination. Last weekend saw congresses of all major political forces nominating presidential candidates. Every candidate must now collect one million signatures across Ukraine to support his nomination, which will be then registered with the CEC.

As expected, incumbent President Leonid Kuchma was nominated by congresses of the two parties contesting the informal title of “party of power:” the United Social Democrats (USDP) of Viktor Medvedchuk and the People’s Democrats (NDP). The NDP, in choosing Kuchma, lost Anatoly Matvienko, the party’s chairman since its creation in 1996. Matvienko had earlier threatened quitting the NDP if the party chose Kuchma over a more democratic and market-oriented leader (see the Monitor, May 13-14). On May 15, Matvienko slammed the doors of the party behind him, accompanied by those delegates of the congress loyal to him. The majority of the congress elected an outspoken Kuchma’s loyalist, Premier Valery Pustovoytenko, as the NDP new leader. At the same time, Matvienko’s faction announced plans to join two other liberal parties, Reforms and Order and the Rukh, in search of a strong center-right alternative to Kuchma.

Ukraine’s one-time strongest nationalist force, the Rukh, joins the presidential race split in two rival parts. The reformist faction convened for its extraordinary congress on May 15 and nominated its leader, Yury Kostenko, a former environment minister, for president. Kostenko is virtually unknown to the public and his presidential chances are slim. Fully aware of this, he promised to continue negotiating a single candidacy with other center-right parties. At the same time, the Rukh conservative wing, which remained loyal to the party’s long-time leader Vyacheslav Chornovil until his untimely death last March, nominated its newly elected chairman, Hennady Udovenko, a former Foreign Affairs Minister, as its presidential candidate. Udovenko, also a weak candidate, is generally expected to later bow out in favor of Kuchma (see the Monitor, April 7, 19).

General Yevhen Marchuk, a former security service (SBU) chief and later premier, has failed to either secure support from any major political force or establish an influential party of his own. Marchuk was nominated on May 15 for president by a motley crew of small parties of various political orientations, united by the idea of “a strong hand.” The parties which formed this bloc–called simply Our President Yevhen Marchuk–are: the nationalist Republican Party, the Christian People’s Union, the Peasant Democratic Party, and Marchuk’s recent creation, the Social Democratic Union, which split from the USDP earlier this spring. Marchuk himself broke with USDP this past winter, when this party opted to support Kuchma in the elections (Ukrainian television and agencies, May 14-16; see the Monitor, April 6).–OV