Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 183

After a rift in the Left-of-Center faction in parliament (see the Monitor, October 2), another significant left-of-center force, the Social Democratic Party (United), has split in two. A conference of the SDP(U) on October 3 by a vote of 245 to 2 elected an affluent lawyer, currently vice speaker of the parliament, Viktor Medvedchuk, as the new leader of the party. Simultaneously, former SDP(U) leader and a former justice minister, Vasyl Onopenko, who has headed the party since 1995, announced the creation of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. Onopenko accused his former party colleagues of defending the interests of certain financial groups and betraying leftist ideas. Onopenko did not exclude that his new party could set up its own faction in parliament or re-unite with the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine of Yuriy Buzduhan (Ukrainian media, October 3).

Since former President Leonid Kravchuk and former Premier Yevhen Marchuk joined the electoral lists of SDP(U) in late 1997, the authority of the party’s founder Onopenko has been steadily waning. The two political heavyweights contributed significantly to the success of this previously rather low-key party at the elections of March 29. At that election, SDP(U) gathered over one million votes (slightly over 4 percent), obtaining the right to form a separate faction in parliament. Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis–the owner of Dynamo Kyiv soccer club and a wealthy oil dealer–apparently contributed to the success with capitals other than political, further reducing the weight of Onopenko as the party’s leader. In the long run, Onopenko, who found it hard to couple his leftist ideology with business interests of his junior party colleagues, was in fact edged out of the SDP(U) leadership even before the actual split.

SDP(U) without Onopenko will accelerate its drift to the political center in preparing a presidential campaign for its informal leader, former chief of the Ukrainian security services (SBU) Marchuk, who heads the party’s faction in parliament. For the time being, SDP(U) is not in an open opposition to the government of Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko. The party has yet, however, to formally announce whom it will support in the presidential race of 1999. On his part, Onopenko risks sinking into political oblivion. Furthermore, it will not be easy for his new party to find a niche in the cramped Ukrainian left wing. Onopenko is likely to join forces with the Socialist Party of another strong presidential candidate, former speaker Oleksandr Moroz.–OV