Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s dream of unifying the right-of-center political continuum into a mega-party in order to win the 2006 parliamentary elections has failed to materialize. The party’s formal head, Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertny, intended for the first congress of Yushchenko’s party, People’s Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU), on July 9, to be a unifying forum. But the NSNU failed to persuade a single other major “national-democratic” party to merge with it. What’s more, the NSNU’s leading role in the government coalition has been questioned, and now would-be coalition partners are disputing the party’s very name.
Some 1,400 delegates attended the congress, which Yushchenko opened. Two recent developments suggest that the NSNU is repeating the mistakes made by the “party of power” of the mid-1990s — the National Democratic Party. First, the hitherto apolitical Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov joined the party. Then the party announced that its ranks were growing at the fastest rate in Zhytomyr Region, where the NSNU cell is headed by the local governor. Just like the NDP, which has been slowly sinking into political oblivion, the NSNU is developing into a club of government bureaucrats, rather than a party with a clear ideology.
The NSNU’s bureaucratic nature is a turnoff for the major center-right parties that Yushchenko wanted to bring under his umbrella when he founded the NSNU. The conservative nationalists from the Ukrainian People’s Party of Yuriy Kostenko and the People’s Movement (Rukh) of Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk apparently had no intention of merging with the new party from the outset, although Yushchenko clearly hoped for this. But the continuing reluctance of Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk’s party to merge with the NSNU must have been an unpleasant surprise for Yushchenko. Moreover, Pynzenyk’s Our Ukraine, whose name was “Reforms and Order” until a year ago, is disputing the NSNU’s right to be called “Our Ukraine.”
The liberal Reforms and Order, which has probably been the party ideologically closest to Yushchenko, was renamed Our Ukraine in July 2004, reportedly in order to prevent any other party from hijacking the popular name of Yushchenko’s bloc in parliament. When Yushchenko founded the NSNU last March, its subsequent merger with Pynzenyk’s party looked to be simply a matter of time. But this marriage has not happened, and suspicion has been growing inside the NSNU that Pynzenyk’s Our Ukraine may choose to run in next year’s elections on its own, in which case the famous name would distract NSNU’s potential voters from the “real” Yushchenko party. Recent public opinion polls have confirmed that Ukrainians do indeed confuse the two parties.
On July 7 the Justice Ministry, which is headed by NSNU member Roman Zvarych, revoked the ministry’s August 30, 2004, decision to allow Pynzenyk’s party to re-register as Our Ukraine. The ministry said Yushchenko owned the exclusive right to use this name. And the NSNU congress voted in favor of “returning” to NSNU the “Our Ukraine” name. But Pynzenyk, whose party’s congress coincided with that of Yushchenko’s (more evidence that unification was planned, but failed), insisted that his party would continue to be called Our Ukraine. Pynzenyk’s party issued a statement saying that the Justice Ministry’s decision “did not contribute to the consolidation of the forces backing Viktor Yushchenko.” If Pynzenyk does not back down, Yushchenko’s party may have to fight for its name in court.
Addressing the congress, Yushchenko spoke of the need for the NSNU, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc, and parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn’s People’s Party to form a united front for the elections. And National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko urged other center-right parties to unify on the NSNU’s basis. But the answer to this, which came from the parties that the NSNU had seen as no more than junior partners, must have felt like a cold shower. The parties of Tymoshenko, Pynzenyk, Kostenko, and Tarasyuk issued a statement urging the NSNU to form a five-party coalition for the elections. This plan of the four parties excludes Lytvyn’s People’s Party from the coalition, and leaves no doubt as to the scope of Tymoshenko’s ambitions. Interviewed by Channel 5, Yuriy Yekhanurov, governor of Dnipropetrovsk and a leading member of Yushchenko’s team, said that the parties of Pynzenyk, Kostenko, and Tarasyuk made their choice — to be with Tymoshenko.
The NSNU leadership may have to swallow this bitter pill. Closing the party congress, Bezsmertny expressed his regret that the parties had failed to come together, and said that the NSNU is ready for negotiations on a coalition in the format proposed by the four parties. This makes the role of Yushchenko’s brainchild ever more unclear. And the bureaucrats who are flooding its ranks do not quite believe in its future as a unifying force. Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, for example, has joined the NSNU, but did not disband his own party, Unity, leaving one of his aides to formally chair it.
(UT-1, July 2; Channel 5, Interfax-Ukraine, July 9; Ukrayinska pravda, July 7, 10)