The Liberal Party and the All-Ukraine Labor Party joined forces in October 1997 in the electoral bloc "Together." The bloc focuses on promoting economic reform while representing the interests of Donetsk region in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This eastern region is one of Ukraine’s most populous, most industrialized and most russified, posing a formidable challenge to President Leonid Kuchma’s camp in this parliamentary election and in next year’s presidential election.
The Liberal-Labor bloc urges an acceleration of the transition to the market economy, and offers to support Kuchma on that basis. It aims to form a group of pro-reform industrialists and businessmen in the new parliament and to "strengthen Kuchma’s team of economic specialists", that is, to join a governing coalition. The Liberal-Labor program calls for reducing the government’s role in economic management, cutting taxes on business and enlarging the decision-making powers of regions. The "Together" bloc proposes to help "hold eastern and western Ukraine together, acting as a bridge" between the russified eastern and the nationally conscious western part of the country.
By joining the bloc, the Labor Party in effect gave up at least temporarily its goal to campaign countrywide, which had been implied in its "all-Ukrainian" title. Labor Party leader Valentin Landyk is a former industrial manager, Deputy Prime Minister in 1993-94 under former President Leonid Kravchuk, and currently head of the "North" financial-industrial group.
The Liberal Party had from the outset been a regional party, headed by the Donetsk region governor Volodymyr Shcherban (no relation to Yevhen Shcherban, the wealthy Donetsk businessman and leader of the Liberal Party’s parliamentary group in Kyiv, assassinated mafia-style in 1996). Volodymyr Shcherban was dismissed from his gubernatorial post by Kuchma in 1996 under pressure from then-Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who was attempting to expand the sphere of his Dnipropetrovsk regional clan into Donetsk region. But after Kuchma turned against Lazarenko, an alliance between the president and the Liberal Party became a distinct prospect. The influential presidential adviser Dmytro Tabachnik is a Liberal candidate in an inconspicuous eighth spot on the "Together" bloc’s electoral slate. The bloc’s candidates include a host of managers of state enterprises and private businessmen.
The Liberal-Labor bloc — and by implication the presidential camp — face a redoubtable challenge from Russian-oriented and leftist forces in Donetsk region and in eastern Ukraine in general. Fortunately for "Together," for Kuchma, and for Ukraine, those forces — Communists, Socialists, two rival wings of the once-strong Civic Congress and a diehard pro-Soviet bloc — have not managed to unite. (Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research: Research Update, No. 92, November 24, 1997; and no. 105, March 9, 1998; DINAU, October 27, 1997, and February 26, 1998; Ukrainian TV, March 11; see also Prism, March 6, 1998)
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