Popular Ukraine’s former Premier Viktor Yushchenko has determined the make-up of his bloc Our Ukraine in the parliamentary elections of March 2002. The moderate right-wing opposition will form the bloc’s core. Yushchenko also hopes, with some assistance from the presidential administration, to cajole also some centrists and center-left forces into joining him. He is eyeing, in particular, the bloc of the Party of Regions (UPR), the People’s Democratic Party, the Agrarian Party (APU) and Labor Ukraine (newspapers have coined the acronym TUNDRA for this group). Yushchenko apparently hopes that at least two of them–the UPR and the APU–will prefer his bloc to TUNDRA. But it remains to be seen whether his right-wing partners will agree with this.
On September 18, Yushchenko convened a meeting to discuss the proposed bloc’s future. Among the attendees were representatives of the right wing (the two Rukhs, Reforms and Order, and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists), the left-leaning Trade Unions Federation, the Agrarian Party and Solidarity (the left wing of the UPR) and permanent presidential Rada representative Roman Bezsmertny. On the same day, Yushchenko met with Kuchma and UPR leader Mykola Azarov. Results of the two closed-door meetings were not publicized. This sparked rumors that Kuchma was monitoring the formation of Our Ukraine, that Bezsmertny would be the head of Yushchenko’s election headquarters, and that Yushchenko had asked Azarov to join the bloc.
On September 21, Yushchenko met with opposition-leaning journalists in Kyiv to dispel several of those rumors and open several of his cards. “I am the founder of this bloc and I will decide who will be part of it,” Yushchenko said, denying that he was looking for guidance from Kuchma. He confirmed rather than denied reports about the possible alliance with Bezsmertny, saying that it had not yet been decided whether this “most promising politician” would steer Our Ukraine’s campaign.
Yushchenko was open about his reluctance to join forces with the radical antipresidential opposition, which organized mass protests across Ukraine late last year and early this. “Association with the opposition could get us the sympathies of 10 to 13 percent of the electors,” he said. “This is important. But we should aim higher if we want to have a manageable democratic parliament.” Such was Yushchenko’s response to the deputy head of the National Salvation Forum (NSF), Anatoly Matvienko’s proposal to Yushchenko from September 20 to join forces with the NSF rather than, presumably, “serving the corrupt anti-Ukrainian regime” of Kuchma.
Yushchenko’s pragmatism prompts him to seek allies in the pro-presidential camp. He wants Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko’s Unity party, for example, to join his camp. In an interview with Ukrainska Pravda web site, Yushchenko described Omelchenko as “a desirable political partner” who can “play an important consolidating role.” Yushchenko was evidently not discouraged by Omelchenko’s cold rebuff in an interview with Stolichnye Novosti, in which Omelchenko said, “I respect Yushchenko, but we won’t be in the same political bloc.” Omelchenko, the popular mayor of a 3-million strong city, would be welcome in any bloc or party, and Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine is no exception.
Yushchenko is ambitious, and won’t be satisfied with having only right-wing nationalists in his bloc. Western Ukraine is their stronghold. It is in the densely populated East, which usually decides the fate of Ukrainian elections, that the nationalists are unpopular. Among the various political forces, the Communists and TUNDRA–especially TUNDRA’s Labor Ukraine and the UPR–are strong in the East. A union with the Communists is out of the question for Yushchenko, so his recent overtures to TUNDRA seemed logical even if they came as a surprise to those his allies who would prefer to steer clear of bureaucrats and oligarchs.
At the September 21 meeting with Ukraine’s journalists, Yushchenko confirmed that he was negotiating an alliance with the UPR–a force with, as he put it, “some experience in the East.” Yushchenko would in fact be happy were the whole of TUNDRA join him. Within TUNDRA, however, attitudes to Yushchenko are mixed. On September 22, Azarov said that an alliance with Yushchenko’s bloc would be possible only if all the parties comprising TUNDRA agreed to cooperate with Yushchenko. But Labor Ukraine’s leader Serhy Tyhypko and People’s Democrats leader Valery Pustovoytenko ruled out joining forces with Our Ukraine altogether. Meanwhile, the APU and Solidarity clearly are negotiating an alliance.
It looks as if Yushchenko, while he would prefer the whole of TUNDRA, would be pleased enough with simply a party or two from it. His success here would be proof of some arrangement with Kuchma, because TUNDRA consists of Kuchma loyalists who would not join with Yushchenko without Kuchma’s blessing. Kuchma may in fact be trying to use Our Ukraine to neutralize the right-wing opposition by merging it with the center. Not all of Yushchenko’s right-wing allies are likely to agree to be in the same bloc with the UPR or the APU. This would put an end to the fragile unity of Ukraine’s right-wingers (Stolichnye Novosti, September 18, Ukrainska Pravda, September 19-22; Forum web site, September 20; Korrespondent.net, September 21, 24; UNIAN, September 23; see the Monitor, August 31, September 11, 14).
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