31/10/2004 - Analysis - 1st round
On 31 October and 14 November the Ukraine is to elect its third President of the Republic since the country's independence proclaimed on 24 August 1991.
The electoral campaign recently turned into a political crisis with the launch of an inquiry by the Ukrainian public prosecutor's office into an attempted attack on the main opposition candidate Viktor Ioutchenko (Our Ukraine). On 6 September, he was the victim of food poisoning and went to a hospital in Vienna in a dangerous state of health. This might have been a result of criminal activity. When he returned to the Ukraine ten days later the opposition candidate accused the present regime of President Leonid Koutchma of having wanted to eliminate him. "What happened to me was not a problem with food. What happened to me was a problem linked to the political regime in the Ukraine. It was not an issue with the cooking in the literal sense of the word but of the Ukrainian political 'cuisine' where murders are ordered. Don't ask who will be next, it might be one of us", declared Viktor Ioutchenko.
The ten years of Leonid Koutchma's presidency, who denied all responsibility in the food poisoning that the opposition candidate was a victim of, have mostly been marred by scandal (electoral fraud, illegal sale of arms to Iraq) as well as attacks and crimes that still have not been solved. In addition to this the Ukraine is one of the twenty most corrupt countries in the world according to the NGO Transparency International, that specialises in the fight against corruption (ranking 2002).
The assassination of Gueorgui Gongadze, that still has not been explained, is still clearly in the minds of the Ukrainians. Thirty-one year old Gueorgui Gongadze, chief editor of the on-line newspaper Ukraïnska pravda, www.pravda.com.ua, known for his criticism of the ruling powers disappeared on 16 September 2000 and was found decapitated on 2 November the same year - at the time of his disappearance he was investigating affairs of corruption that affected the State leadership. Before his death he said that he was being followed by policemen. On 16 September last, on the fourth anniversary of his disappearance more than a thousand people gathered in the centre of the capital, Kiev, to demand justice. "Enough of the lies we want the truth", proclaimed the demonstrators' banners. The murder of Gueorgui Gongadze was followed by other suspicious deaths including that of Mikhaïlo Kolomiets, director of a press agency who was found hanged in October 2002.
As the presidential election draws closer incidents are on the increase. On 20 August an arson attack partially destroyed an opposition newspaper's office in Lviv in the west of the country. On 15 September an opposition TV channel, Channel Five, said that it was experiencing broadcasting problems in a number of Ukrainian regions where several programmes had to be stopped. Mid August a delegation of American senators, who were visiting the country, denounced the major restrictions imposed on certain media and activities that prevented the opposition from expressing itself. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe also said that it was worried about the electoral campaign's present climate. For its part the European Union requested the greatest transparency possible during the election. "It is most important that the presidential election happens in a totally democratic manner. The EU-Ukraine relationship depends on concrete activities that promote European values and criteria", declared Brian Cowen, Irish Foreign Secretary on 18 May when his country held the Presidency of the EU. The present Prime Minister, Viktor Ianoukovich, himself a candidate in the presidential election on 31 October and 14 November, said that he favoured a "fair and transparent" election. However, the electoral team of the main opposition candidate, Viktor Ioutchenko, has lodged over 90 complaints with the Electoral Commission for infringements committed during the campaign that notably included, pressure made by managers on their subordinates to collate signatures in favour of the Prime Minister, the participation by civil servants in his electoral propaganda and the difficulties of access to the media experienced by the opposition. In addition to this when two thirds of the Ukrainians were interviewed by the Research Centre Razoumkov they said they feared that the presidential election results would be tampered with and nearly half (67.5%) believed that the electoral campaign was being undertaken unjustly and that it favoured certain candidates. Unequal access to the media, pressure by employers to ensure the vote in favour of a certain candidate, and participation by civil servants in the campaign are the most frequently mentioned infringements. In an opinion poll undertaken in the first half of September only two Ukrainians in ten (19%) said they were satisfied with President Leonid Koutchma's policies, 69% of interviewees said they wanted a radical change at the head of their country.
The Ukrainian Political System
The President of the Republic holds the executive power. He is elected by direct universal suffrage for five years; his mandate is only renewable once. The President is the commander in chief of the national armed forces. He appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister, he can also cancel the decisions taken by the Ukrainian Council of Ministers and those taken by the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea - he may also veto the laws adopted by Parliament which are then put to the MP's.
The Ukraine also has one chamber of Parliament. The Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) comprises 450 members who are elected for four years. Two hundred and twenty five MP's are appointed by majority vote within the constituencies and 225 others are elected by proportional vote from a national list (a minimum of 4% of the vote is obligatory to be represented in Parliament). Parliament may disregard the presidential veto by a vote of two thirds of its members. On 2 April last the President of the Republic declared a law that modified the voting system during general elections that will now take place according to proportional representation - the threshold required to enter Parliament has been decreased from 4% to 3%.
The present President of the Republic, Leonid Koutchma, has held office since 10 July 1994 when he was elected with 52.58% of the vote. At the end of his first mandate he was re-elected on 14 November 1999 winning 56.3% of the vote, versus 37.8% for his adversary Petro Simonenko (Communist Party of Ukraine).
Leonid Koutchma, who is 70 years old and an engineer, was director of the missile factory in Dniepropetrovsk between 1986 and 1992 before being appointed Prime Minister by the previous head of State Leonid Kravtchouk (1991-1994). In December 1993, Leonid Koutchma became president of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs before becoming President of the Republic six months later. Now that he is coming to the end of his second mandate Leonid Koutchma may no longer stand in the election.
Twenty-one people are candidates to succeed Leonid Koutchma. They are:
Viktor Ioutchenko (Our Ukraine) ;
Petro Simonenko (Communisty Party, KPU) ;
Viktor Ianoukovich (Party of the Regions, PR), present Prime Minister;
Natalia Vitrenko (Progressive Socialist Party, PSPU) ;
Oleksandr Moroz (Socialist Party, SPU) ;
Anatoli Kinakh (Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, PPPU), former Prime Minister;
Oleksandr Rjavskï (Pan Ukrainian Union - United Family) ;
Oleksandr Iakovenko (Communist Workers' and Farmers' Party) ;
Oleksandr Baziliouk (Roukh Party for Unity) ;
Roman Kozak (Nationalist Ukrainian Organisation, OUN) ;
Dmitro Kortchinski (Fraternity) ;
Leonid Tchernovetski, honorary president of the company Pravex;
Vassil Volha (Public Control) ;
Iouri Zbtiniev (New Force) ;
Ihor Douchyne (Liberal Democrat Party of the Ukraine, LDPU) ;
Mikhaïlo Brodski (Iablouko) ;
Hryhorei Tchernych (People's Rehabilitation Party) ;
Andrei Tchornovil (Ukrainian Nationalist Organisation, OUN) ;
Vladislav Krivobobokov (Popular Party for Depositors and Social Defence) ;
Vitalei Kononov (Green Party, ZPU).
An uncertain duel
To succeed him as head of State Leonid Koutchma has chosen present Prime Minister Viktor Ianoukovich. Ianoukovich, whom originates from Donbass, a very sparsely populated region lying to the east, and who has been governor of the region of Donetsk since 1997, where a tenth of the Ukrainian population lives. In November 2002 he was appointed Prime Minister and established the fight against poverty, unemployment, the lowering of taxes and the increase in pensions as his priorities. With the support of Russia he is the candidate of the old Soviet nomenklatura that only converted over to a market economy in order to build better economic empires under the protection of the ruling powers. Like the present President of the Republic Viktor Ianoukovich is in favour of his country's entry into the EU and NATO.
His main rival in the presidential race is Viktor Ioutchenko who is entirely in favour of the West and of the Ukraine's entry into the EU and NATO. On July 4 last 20,000 people demonstrated their support following the official launch of the electoral campaign for the presidential election to the cries of "Ioutchenko, President of the People". "I shall win this election and it will be everyone's victory", declared the main opposition candidate at that time. Leader of Our Ukraine, the first party in Parliament with 112 MP's, he hopes to introduce economic reforms that are vital to the liberalisation of the country. Viktor Ioutchenko is especially popular in the Western part of the Ukraine, that is traditionally oriented more towards the West than to Russia. According to all probability he will have to confront, the Prime Minister in the second round when he hopes to take advantage of the support of the entire opposition.
On 23 June last the Ukrainian Parliament voted in, by 276 votes in favour versus 5 against and one abstention, a draft reform of the Constitution that strengthened the powers of the Prime Minister in detriment to the President of the Republic. The members of Our Ukraine and those of the Ioula Timochenko Bloc (21 MP's) refused to take part in the vote. According to them the text that was adopted aims solely to reduce the President's powers in the event of the opposition winning the next presidential election. This constitutional reform might also enable Leonid Koutchma to become Prime Minister if his heir Viktor Ianoukovich wins the election.
At the beginning of 2004 Parliament already voted in a reform of the Constitution presented by Leonid Koutchma that contained a clause planning for the election of the President of the Republic by Parliament. The Head of State then decided to withdraw this clause from his draft. An opinion poll undertaken by the independent Research Centre Razoumkov revealed that 86% of the Ukrainians were against the modification of the mode of electing the President of the Republic.
For the very first time, political wagers will be organised across the country for the presidential election. Hence the Ukrainians will be able to bet on the results of the presidential election, as well as on the American presidential election on 2 November. The maximum sum that a punter may win has been established at 10,000$. Although it would appear that Viktor Ianoukovich is slightly ahead it remains that never, since the country's independence, has there been a presidential election in the Ukraine with such uncertain results and where victory by the opposition does not seem to be impossible.
Reminder of the presidential election results in 1999
Source: Le Courrier des pays de l'Est, n° 1 030, La Russie et les autres pays de la CEI 2001-2002, Paris, La Documentation française, novembre-décembre 2002