Parliamentary elections in Ukraine create new problems

28.03.06

MOSCOW, (Alexei Makarkin, for RIA Novosti) -- The March 26 parliamentary
elections in Ukraine showed that there are three leading political forces in
the country and that the traditional geographic electoral divide has been
blurred.

In the past, the eastern and western regions were almost enemies, whereas
now the western regions vote for Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, the
central regions for Yuliya Tymoshenko's bloc (both figures led the Orange
Revolution in 2004), and the eastern regions for the pro-Russian Party of
the Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych, the former prime minister accused of
rigging the 2004 elections that triggered the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych's party is leading the vote, because he is the only man from
former President Leonid Kuchma's team to have pinned his hopes on one
electoral district - the most densely populated Donetsk Region.

Many other political forces from the Kuchma era succumbed to their political
rivals because of the lack of administrative support, like the united party
of Social Democrats led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who was once a highly
influential politician. The bloc of parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn
also underperformed.

In 2004, Yanukovych won a substantial part of the Communist Party's
electorate, as he did this year. Four years ago, the Communists came second,
but this year they overcame the low 3% barrier with great difficulties.

Tymoshenko and Yushchenko divided the Orange electorate, which voted for the
incumbent president three times in a row in 2004. Tymoshenko's eponymous
bloc is considerably ahead of Yushchenko's party for several reasons. In
particular, Yushchenko's team has been accused of corruption and the
president himself is no longer considered to be lilywhite, though nobody has
accused him personally so far.

Some key members of his team had to quit for different reasons, including
the gas conflict with Russia (its moot character and corruption suspicions
provoked a great deal of complaints in Ukraine). Another weak point of
Yushchenko's team is the personality of Yury Yekhanurov, who is good enough
as a technical prime minister, but proved to be weak as a political and
election figure. Yushchenko refused to run for parliament and there was
nobody to replace him on the voting lists.

As for Tymoshenko, she used in full the advantages of being in opposition to
the regime, notably criticism of the government. She had stepped down as
prime minister when the people still believed her as an honest politician,
and preferred to act offended. She mobilized enough funds for the election
campaign with the help of Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomiysky, the head of
the Dnepropetrovsk group of companies, Privat. He has considerable interests
in the oil, mining, steel, banking and agrarian businesses.

The Orange Princess is hoping to return to the government as prime minister,
but the decision rests with Yushchenko. His supporters did badly in the
elections, but his two main rivals - Yanukovych and Tymoshenko - are on
cat-and-dog terms and will not be able to form an effective government. Both
want to become prime minister, but are poles apart regarding business
interests. Therefore, the seat will go to the one who will be able to come
to terms with Yushchenko and Oleksandr Moroz, the leader of the Socialist
Party that is represented in the government.

Yushchenko had a good reason not to lead the election lists of Our Ukraine -
he wanted to be the political arbiter to whom the leaders of all other
parties and blocs would turn.

The incumbent president can now form an Orange coalition with Tymoshenko and
Moroz, or what the other side is terming a grand coalition with Yanukovych
and Moroz. Tymoshenko is not an ideal political partner for him - not just
because he fired her last year. Unlike Yanukovych, she is less acceptable to
the Ukrainian establishment because her policy includes the mass
re-privatization of enterprises, notably those that belong to Russian
investors.

At the same time, Yushchenko's voters will demand an Orange coalition. By
concluding an inter-elite compromise with Yanukovych, the president may lose
the respect of even his tested allies, who regard the leader of the Party of
the Regions as demonic and the incarnation of political evil.

Therefore, the Orange option appears preferable for the Ukrainian president,
but he will accept it only after complicated bargaining aimed to create a
system of checks and balances. If the prime minister, who should become
stronger after the political reform, counterweights the president, the key
ministers from the Yushchenko team should level off the influence of the
premier. This will make a new Ukrainian government a complicated and
unstable structure based on compromises.

Alexei Makarkin is deputy director general of the Center for Political
Technologies in Moscow.