Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 29

Ukraine’s parliamentary race is now officially underway, effective February 9. By January 30, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) had received both party-bloc and individual applications, the first to compete for 225 seats in the nationwide proportional constituency, and the second to vie for another 225 single-seat constituencies. By February 6, thirty-five parties and blocs were registered (in the 1998 elections there were thirty). One bloc was refused registration.

For Yushchenko, a group of small parties whose organizers had hoped for a free ride by using popular former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s name (see the Monitor, January 30), were denied registration. The CEC also detected foul play in the case of the Women for the Future of Children bloc, its name being too similar to that of the already registered Women for the Future bloc, but permitted it to re-register under a different name.

The greater number of players in this election should benefit the two or three strongest forces, who are entitled to more seats in the Rada, at the expense of those who fail to pass the 4-percent popular vote barrier.

On the left, at least seven parties and blocs are running under red banners (in 1998 there were four). This fragmentation of the left has, of course, been encouraged by the governing elite. Some small leftist parties were even covertly supported from outside. Petro Symonenko’s Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) remains the strongest left-wing force, but is not expected to perform as brilliantly as in 1998, when it garnered almost 25 percent of the vote. Apart from the fact that popular support for the CPU has somewhat decreased, a certain share of the communist vote may be drawn by the CPU namesakes–the Communist Party of Workers and Peasants, and the Reformed Communist Party. Oleksandr Moroz’s Socialist Party remains the second popular left-wing force, but opinion polls show that it may fail to pass the 4-per cent barrier.

The political center is as crowded as it was four years ago. The fragmentation of pro-presidential forces is due to Kuchma’s fundamental distrust of political parties, conflicting business interests dividing regional elites and oligarchs, and personal ambitions of small party bosses. The For a United Ukraine bloc–which consists of the People’s Democratic Party, Labor Ukraine, the Agrarian Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Party of Regions–is the strongest centrist force. It will capitalize on the administrative resource and media control. The United Social Democratic Party (USDP), headed by Viktor Medvedchuk, is also among the electoral favorites. Its trump card is its control of several key media, including the popular nationwide Inter TV. Recently, however, representatives of this force lost several key posts (see the Monitor, December 18), and Kuchma visibly distanced itself from its oligarchic leadership.

The right flank has greatly changed since 1998. A radical nationalist ideology is no longer its driving force, having been replaced by economic concerns and protectionism. Staunch presidential opposition has become the main “ideology” for at least two right-wing forces–the Ukrainian National Assembly and Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc. Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, a moderate right-wing force, is one of two main favorites in the race. It runs neck and neck with the CPU in opinion polls with 14-18 percent of the popular “vote.” Our Ukraine, which incorporates the bulk of the once strongest nationalist force–the Rukh–is neither an ally of the governing elite nor part of the opposition. Some even say that it is backed by Kuchma. Its main strength is the popularity of its leader–Yushchenko, a liberal economist highly regarded in the West with a reputation for honesty–a strong point in a country notorious for official corruption.

Political apathy and disillusionment with the elite will be exploited by several forces defying traditional left-right classifications. Although they do not belong to the race favorites, some of them may well pass the 4-percent barrier by drawing the protest vote. Among these are the Green Party, which did this in 1998; the populist Yabluko (Apple), which calls for cancellation of the value-added tax and likes to picket Western embassies; the Russian Bloc playing the Russian language card; the Women for the Future bloc and the Women’s Party; and the Against All bloc, whose name speaks for itself. (Zerkalo Nedeli, January 26;, February 6; New Channel, February 8)