THE UKRAINE INSIDER
Vol. 7, No. 3
August 8, 2007
By Ivan Lozowy
Early parliamentary elections are on.
Despite early misgivings and some desperate flailing from Socialist Party Chairman Oleksandr Moroz, both Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko are going ahead with the September 30, 2007 election date. The new elections are supposed to settle the long-running struggle for power between President and Prime Minister.
They are unlikely to do anything of the sort.
Yanukovych’s Party of Regions are in the ascendant. In elections held only a year and a half ago, the Party of Regions won a convincing first place. Now, thanks to Yushchenko, they dominate the government and are sure to bring into play “administrative resource,” a euphemism for government power in the service of narrow, political interests. The power of the purse, budgetary and a myriad of other financial allocations present powerful weapons to use in convincing local government and business leaders to support the Party of Regions.
The Party of Regions is well disciplined. They have also been flexible enough to take on board representatives from two other, smaller, but still important clans. Inna Bohoslovska, a protege of the oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, and Nestor Shufrych, of the Social Democratic Party (united) — the SDPU(o) — are in the top five of the corresponding election list.
Given that these elections should, from the Party of Regions’ view, entrench them in power, the party’s informal head and Ukraine’s richest man, Renat Akhmetov, will not be stingy in spending party funds. Through Yanukovych’s government, Akhmetov and his party have had ample time to gobble up resources from “The Trough,” as the State Budget is sardonically referred to.
Thus Yanukovych and company look set to significantly increase their 2006 results of 32%, a result on the order of 36-40% is entirely possible.
Yulia Tymoshenko will also doubtless improve on her result of 22% in 2006.
But Tymoshenko is also on a collision course with herself. Her consistently very high negative ratings create a relatively low ceiling for her ambitions. Her passivity before the pre-election period contributed to the rise of an alternative “leader of the opposition” in the form of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. Lutsenko is allied with the Our Ukraine coalition and some of his poll ratings reach a respectable 6%.
Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense” coalition, on the other hand, has an uphill climb ahead of it.
Shut out from executive power by the very people their informal head, the President, put in office, Our Ukraine has little financing available and a serious image problem.
A much touted reunion of nine political parties in the “Our Ukraine” coalition is no more than an empty space within a shell, since most of the parties are miserly groupings with no grass-roots organizations or impact on society. After the elections, many of the nine signatories to a pact to form one, united party will not stay the course, preferring their small, separate “ant-hills.”
Recent polls have generously given the Our Ukraine coalition 12-16%. In reality, the pent-up anger at Yushchenko’s failed promises bodes a severe disappointment for adherents of the Orange Revolution. Just the dismay at Yushchenko’s appointment of Yanukovych following a campaign slogan of “Prison for the bandits!” will cost his coalition dearly two months from now.
If Our Ukraine has troubles, then Moroz’ Socialist Party is deader than dead. His betrayal of the Orange Coalition and switch to Yanukovych’s ally has decimated his electoral support. Now Moroz has been outed by Yushchenko’s decrees dissolving parliament.
Although Yushchenko has seemed to act forcefully the last several months, this is not to his own credit. The reason for Yushchenko’s recently uncovered backbone is his head of the presidential Secretariat, Viktor Baloha. Consequently, the Party of Regions have taken to referring to “certain bureaucrats” or “the President’s office” as the source of their woes in the conflict with Yushchenko.
Baloha is a small-time Mafiosi from the deep Western region of Zakarpatya. He gained prominence as Yushchenko’s ally in a vicious local conflict with the SDPU(o) in the spring of 2004, known as the “Mukachevo” affair.
Knowing full well that Yanukovych’s principal strength lies in his grip on the government, Baloha personally opened an early front on the panoply of ministers the Party of Regions are mustering to garner votes, but this use of “adminresurs” simply cannot realistically be countered.
The big question is who will form an absolute majority coalition after the elections. If, as seems likely, the three principal groups divide parliament’s seats so that no single one of them can form a coalition, a “grand coalition” between the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine is entirely possible.
The major problem with a revival of the Orange coalition is that Tymoshenko repels strong personalities as much as she attracts public attention. As a weak politician, Yushchenko has been one of the few with whom Tymoshenko has been able to work. Baloha, on the other hand, is rumored to harbor ambitions of replacing Yanukovych as Prime Minister. He is unlikely to calmly contemplate Tymoshenko’s return to this post.
Baloha recently publicly lauded new Tymoshenko’s political program, “Ukraine’s Breakthrough.” In the Byzantine world of Ukrainian politics, this is as good as declaring that he is preparing to stab Tymoshenko in the back.
(c) Ivan Lozowy
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Reposted with the permission of the author.