Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 126

There is no unity among the supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, with just three months to go before early parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 30. His strongest ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, will contest the election separately. The talks between his own party Our Ukraine (NU) and would-be partners in a pro-Yushchenko bloc have been slow and difficult. Therefore, Yushchenko has launched an election campaign for his party himself. His opponents believe that he is abusing populist slogans and resorting to methods reminiscent of those of his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma.

NU, the People’s Self-Defense movement (NSO) of former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, and Pravytsya (Right Wing), headed by Yuriy Kostenko, announced on June 7 that they had agreed to set up a “mega-bloc” for the election. Over three weeks have passed since then, and the would-be allies have agreed only on their shares in the election list – 54% will go to the representatives of NU, 25% to NSO, and 21% to Pravytsya. There has been no agreement on either the name of the “mega-bloc” or its ideology, let alone the order of names on the list or the division of portfolios in case the bloc’s representatives get an opportunity to form the government.

Pravytsya is apparently the only party in the would-be bloc that has a clearly defined ideology. It insists on NATO entry, restricting the usage of the Russian language, and recognizing the contribution to Ukrainian independence made by the World War II radical nationalist fighters from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. NSO, however, which is rather a left-wing force, believes that Pravytsya’s views are too radically nationalist to win an election.

NSO argues that the spheres of influence in a would-be cabinet should be divided before the election, so as to avoid a repetition of the 2006 situation, when the pro-Yushchenko coalition broke apart because portfolios had not been divided on time. NU and Pravytsya, however, argue that it is premature to speak about the division of portfolios.

NSO insists that the charismatic Lutsenko should top the candidate list of the “mega-bloc.” NU believes this position should be reserved for its chairman, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, who is less charismatic, but enjoys Yushchenko’s backing. NSO has already threatened to quit the talks and go to the election separately if no agreement on the dividing issues is reached by July 1.

One of Pravytsya’s leaders, former foreign minister Borys Tarasyuk, predicts that the bloc will muster 20-25% of the popular ballot. This may be overly optimistic. The most recent opinion poll by the Razumkov Center has shown that such a bloc may score 17%, and NSO, if it goes separately, may score 5.5%. Pravytsya stands no chance of overcoming the 3% barrier to enter parliament on its own.

On June 28, NSO and NU signed a declaration promising to establish a bloc for the election soon and a single party after the election. Pravytsya’s representatives did not attend the ceremony, according to Channel 5.

In this uncertain situation Yushchenko, who is the honorary chairman of NU and its real leader, has decided to take the initiative. Using his virtually unlimited access to television as head of state, Yushchenko has begun to directly appeal to the nation with popular initiatives as the leader of a party running in the election.

In his five-minute prime-time address to the nation on June 20, Yushchenko urged the cancellation of immunity from prosecution for members of parliament. The public must accept this favorably, as popular opinion has it that many parliamentarians are trying to avoid prison. On June 22, several TV channels broadcast live from Yushchenko’s press conference, at which he urged increasing wages and pensions, doubling the provision for military servicemen, and introducing new benefits for mothers and orphans. Predictably, Yushchenko’s rivals from Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s camp dismissed his initiatives as “election propaganda.”

Since mid-June, several national TV channels have been running a one-minute video in which Yushchenko explains why he dismissed parliament and called the snap election. In the brief video, Yushchenko, shown against a background showing the popular Orange Revolution protests of 2004, accuses Yanukovych’s coalition of putting their interests above those of the nation.

Yuriy Myroshnychenko, the head of the legal service of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, has said that Yushchenko violated the electoral regulations and abused his high position by airing the video. A deputy head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Viktor Bondar, however, said that the video was an innocuous “social ad.”

Mykola Tomenko, an ally of Tymoshenko and deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament, was even more outspoken than Myroshnychenko. In a recent interview with Ukrayinska pravda he said the video was a purely political ad. “Obviously, the presidential secretariat has resorted to the methods which Kuchma used,” said Tomenko. He explained that TV channels must have no choice but to run Yushchenko’s videos for free, as they are disguised as social advertisements.

(ProUA, June 8; UT1 TV, June 20; UNIAN, June 10, 22; Interfax-Ukraine, June 22; Korrespondent, June 23; Ukrayinska pravda, June 22, 25)