17/03/2006 - D-7
During his weekly speech on the radio the President of the Republic Viktor Yushenko called on his countrymen to participate in the general elections on 26th March next. "Show your civic commitment and vote on 26th March," he declared adding, "our neighbours know that our young democracy is undergoing is first serious test. I would like to call on everyone to do everything they can so that the Ukrainian State witnesses stable elections. As President of the Republic I shall do my utmost for the elections to be democratic. Above all Ukrainians will elect a new parliamentary majority that will be a democratic one able to defend the rights of the Ukrainian people and the State's strategic interests and not those of other countries."
The most recent polls still provide the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (November 2002- December 2004) with the lead; according the last poll undertaken by the Foundation for Liberty the latter is due to win 32.4% of the vote. The electoral bloc Batkyvchina (Homeland), led by former Prime Minister (January-September 2005), Yulia Timoshenko, would win 20.2% and the bloc Our Ukraine that rallies the supporters of the President of the Republic, Viktor Yushenko, 16.7% of the vote. According to Igor Dementiev, chairman of the Foundation for Liberty, the future Prime Minister will "undoubtedly be from one of these three political parties."
In any case the political party that wins on 26th March will have to make several alliances in order to form a government. It will have one month after the elections to do so.
The constitutional reform adopted in December 2004 and applied on 1st January last modified the election mode in the general elections that will now take place by proportional vote across the country; the reform also increased the powers of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) to the detriment of those enjoyed by the President of the Republic.
The Socialist Party (SPU), Volodymyr Lytvyn's Popular Bloc, that of Natalia Vitrenko, the Communist Party (KPU) and probably the Pora coalition (Pora meaning, "It is time") the spearhead of the Orange Revolution that was recently transformed into a political party should be able to achieve the minimum 3% to be represented in the Verkhovna Rada. "The latest polls imply we are approved of and we are certain of rising beyond the 3% mark and we are counting on a result of between 6 and 7%," declared Sergei Yevtushenko, Pora's international relations manager.
On several occasions Viktor Yushenko has said that he would like to revise the Constitution and to have this approved by a popular vote. "I am calling for an action plan designed to undertake true national reform," he declared at the beginning of February. He would like to create a commission that would comprise politicians and also representatives of civil society, and experts to prepare this reform that would then be submitted to referendum. Yulia Timoshenko, leader of the Batyvchinka electoral bloc said she is opposed to the idea of a popular consultation on this subject. "I remember that when Leonid Kuchma organised a referendum on the Constitution Viktor Yushenko said that he believed this to be illegal," she stressed.
In an interview on TV the President of the Republic reassured viewers that the general elections on 26th March would not be the opportunity for "revenge". "Today the topical theme for the Ukraine is how to form a coalition or at least how to bring the forces that supported the Orange Revolution and that are now divided, closer together," he declared, making an implicit reference to his former ally Yulia Timoshenko. "We say 'no' to the political revenge of those who supported the unpopular regime of Leonid Kuchma-Viktor Medvedtchouk-Viktor Yanukovich and who falsified the presidential election. We shall never be on the side of those who sell national interests," indicates Our Ukraine's electoral programme which maintains its desire to continue the reforms "in order to make the ongoing changes irreversible."
For his part Viktor Yanukovich has focused his campaign on the socio-economic results produced by the Orange Revolution. "The catastrophic decline in economic growth together with the systematic destruction of the administration is dangerous for the Ukraine," he continues to repeat. The former Prime Minister is also trying to reassure Western countries by guaranteeing that his party, the Party of Regions in joining the opposition "has become aware of the true value of Human Rights and freedom," and that he is now respectful of democracy. The Party of Regions also maintains that it wants to continue the process of European integration established by the present President of the Republic.
At the beginning of February Yulia Timoshenko suggested to the President of the Republic the signature of a treaty planning for the creation of a coalition for the general elections on 26th March. The project stipulated that the parties signing promised not to form an alliance with Viktor Yanukovich's Party of Regions. "I am prepared to guarantee that no coalition with the Party of Regions will be made with my participation," maintained Yulia Timoshenko who also suggested that the party that won should put forward its candidate as Prime Minister. Although she wastes no time in denouncing activities of which some members of Our Ukraine are guilty of she is however careful not to accuse directly Viktor Yushenko, with whom she still wants to form an alliance. Yulia Timoshenko, who does not hesitate to say that she is in the "opposition camp" repeats that she will support the President of the Republic in the next term of office saying simply however that "if Our Ukraine forms an alliance with Viktor Yanukovich, I shall join the opposition." The President of the Republic refused however to sign the coalition project.
Relations with the Russian neighbour along with the fight against corruption and economic and social problems are the other main theme of the electoral campaign in these general elections. Although Viktor Yushenko is in favour of the Ukraine integrating the European Union he also knows that his country must maintain cordial relations with Russia. "The Ukraine is not Russia but we shall be eternal neighbours linked together by a wealth of history," he declared.
On 22nd February MP's in the Crimean Parliament voted in favour of the organisation of a referendum on the same day as the general elections to make Russian the Ukraine's second official language. Fifty three MP's approved the proposal i.e. three more than the necessary majority. Since the country's independence (24th August 1991) Ukrainian is the only officially acknowledged language. However it is believed that around 10 million people speak Russian as their mother tongue and 65% of the population uses it in their daily lives. The linguistic issue was already the focus of the presidential election campaign. Both Viktor Yushenko and Viktor Yanukovich suggested Russian be made the country's second language as well as granting dual nationality (Russian/Ukrainian) to those who so wished it. Viktor Yushenko said that he was in favour of Russian speakers having "press, books, schools and theatres in Russian." "Russian in the Ukraine must not be oppressed in anyway. Russian is the language of millions of Ukrainian citizens; this is why the State must assume its responsibility for the development of this language," declared the Head of State last May.
However on 8th March the Central Electoral Commission prohibited the organisation of a referendum on the Russian language on 26th March.
On March 3rd the new customs regulations between the Ukraine, and the eastern region of Moldova, Transnistria, that unilaterally claimed independence in 1992 after a conflict that caused several hundred deaths, were established. Customs chief Alexander Egorov signed an order whereby goods in transit between the Ukraine and the separatist region should now be cleared through customs in Moldova and no longer in Transnistria. The separatist region is under Russian military occupation. In spite of an international agreement whereby Russia promised to withdraw its troops by 31st December 2002 two thousand soldiers of the 14th Russian Army, transformed into an operational group in 1994 are still stationed in the region. The separatist region of Transnistria has had its own Constitution, national anthem, President, Igor Smirnov (since 2nd September 1990), its own government, Parliament, army and currency (the Transnistrian rouble or souvoriki) but no State, not even Russia acknowledges this Republic.
The separatist region of Transnistria has qualified these new measures that were taken without any prior warning as "an economic blockade" and denounced the Ukrainian decision explaining that it violated the agreement between Kiev and Chisinau (capital of Moldova) and Tiraspol (capital of Transnistria) in 1997. "The Ukraine's introduction of new customs regulations for unacknowledged Transnistria comprises a sabotage attempt on the mechanism to settle the conflict," declared the director of the Institute of CIS countries, Constantin Zatouline.
Valeri Keniaikine, the itinerant ambassador for the Russian Foreign Ministry qualified the situation in Transnistria as "a well co-ordinated political action in which not only the Ukraine and Moldova are taking part but also the Western countries," maintaining however that "Russia would do its utmost to avoid violence." Vitali Koulik, director of the Ukrainian Centre for Problems in Civil Society added to this by maintaining that the status of market economy granted by the European Union in December last and the repeal of the American amendment limiting trading links "were achieved by the Ukraine in exchange for the blockade of Transnistria."
The Ukraine also decided not to open polling stations in Transnistria. The great majority of the 70,000 Ukrainians living there voted in favour of Viktor Yanukovich during the presidential election in November-December 2004.
In reaction to Russian threats after the application of the new customs regulations against the separatist region of Transnistria the Ukraine again threatened to end the use of the four naval bases in Sebastopol by the Russian fleet which is rented (until 2017) to Russia for an annual sum of 100 million dollars. Four hundred military ships and 16,000 Russian sailors are stationed in the port of Sebastopol, a town whose population of 330,000 is almost entirely of Russian origin. This port which lies on the Black Sea where the sea never freezes was created by the Tsarina Catherine II in 1783, twelve years after the Crimea's annexation by Russia. In 1954 celebration of the tercentenary of the Ukraine's annexation to Russia Nikita Khrushchev offered it the Crimea as a gift. When the Ukraine won its independence the Crimea became separate before finally accepting to remain within the new State.
During a visit to the Ukraine on 28th February to 2nd March last the mission from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said how pleased it was with the great improvement in the atmosphere in which the electoral campaign for the general elections was taking place. The mission said it was confident that the election would take place in a democratic manner. Some grounds for concern continue however, notably the great number of electoral commissions that still have not been created due to a lack of candidates on the part of the political parties. "We are confident that the Ukraine has turned irrevocably towards Europe and we support it in this direction. These elections will confirm Ukrainian commitment to democracy," declared Ursula Plassnik, Austria's Foreign Minister, currently ensuring the Presidency of the European Union until 1st July. Finally Benita Ferrero-Waldner Commissioner for External Relations who was visiting Kiev on 2nd and 3rd March last maintained: "The organisation of these elections is very important. If they comply with international norms this might help in revealing new opportunities for the Ukraine to define in which way we might progress in developing our relations. Over the last year the country has accomplished remarkable progress with regard to democratic and economic reform and has clearly showed its desire to draw closer to the European Union. It is very important that this positive impetus in our relationship continues. We are expecting the Ukraine to go further after the elections in economic and legal areas," she said.
After this Boris Tarassiouk, the Ukraine's Foreign Minister maintained that Viktor Yushenko was going to ask government to make a formal request to join the EU. "What can justify the exclusion of one of the biggest European states, the fifth in terms of its population and which is of an obvious geo-political and geo-strategic importance?
On 14th March Parliament voted in favour of an additional 28 million dollars to finance the electoral campaign for the general elections. According to the interim president of the budgetary commission in Parliament, Ludmila Souproun, this measure aims to increase the daily salary of the electoral commissions by 10 dollars (this lies at 3.4 dollars at present). One hundred million dollars had already been affected to the campaign. On 26th March apart from their MP's the Ukrainians will be asked to renew the regional assemblies and local authorities.