24/09/2007 - D-7
On 30th September next 36.8 million Ukrainian voters are being called to ballot to renew the 450 members of the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council), the only chamber in Parliament. 420,000 Ukrainians living abroad will fulfil their civic duty in one of the 115 polling stations that have been set up other than in the Ukraine. 21 political parties are running in this election that is taking place early; 880 international observers will be present to check that the vote takes place according to democratic rules.
Although the Verkhovna Rada was dissolved on 2nd April last by the President of the Republic, Viktor Yushenko, 269 MPs belonging to the outgoing parliamentary majority held session on 4th September. They voted in favour of abolishing parliamentary immunity and privileges, including those granted to the President of the Republic and judges. The Head of State maintains that he will not approve the new law. "The rebel parliament has no legitimacy. No decision taken during this session is legitimate; it cannot be applied nor is it legally valid," he indicated. Yuri Lutsenko, leader of the Our Ukraine-Self Defence (Samoobrona) accused the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada bringing discredit to parliament. "It is not our aim to upset the electoral campaign. We want the situation to settle down as quickly as possible. The Verkhovna Rada's work is not a threat to national stability," maintained Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich who was not in parliament at the time since he was travelling to Louhansk.
On 7th September last the Regions Party launched its campaign to collate signatures in favour of a referendum on three issues. The Ukrainians are to be asked whether they are for or against the Ukraine having two official languages – Ukrainian and Russian, whether they want the governors of the regions and the leaders of the various districts to be elected by universal suffrage and whether they want the country to maintain its military neutrality (at present the Ukraine does not belong to any type of military bloc). The ruling party believes that it can gather 9 million signatures in 70 days. If this is so the organisation of the referendum will then have to be approved by Parliament, the President of the Republic and the Constitutional Court. Viktor Yushenko qualified this initiative as "political adventurism". The Regions Party says that it is prepared to initiate an impeachment procedure against the Head of State if he refuses to organise the referendum. On 17th September last the Regions Party announced that it had collated 3 million signatures mostly from the eastern part of the country and the Crimea.
Yulia Timoshenko, leader of the Yulia Timoshenko bloc in the opposition, an ally of Viktor Yushenko, would like to change the Constitution so that the reform adopted on 8th December 2004, which came into application on 1st January 2006 can be abolished. The reform led to a strengthening in the powers enjoyed by Parliament with a transfer of some of those enjoyed by the Head of State over to the Supreme Council. She is in favour of a Presidential Republic. The leader of the Orange Revolution would like a referendum to be held on the system of government in the Ukraine – should it be presidential or parliamentary? – and wants to ask the Ukrainians whether they favour the election of judges (at present they are appointed by the President of the Republic and Parliament).
On several occasions, the President of the Republic has said that he supports a bicameral Parliament and a reduction in the number of MPs. But in order to be adopted these measures would require the people's approval.
Our Ukraine-Self-Defence's electoral programme plans for wage rises. Viktor Yushenko has announced that if his party wins he will raise the minimum monthly salary from 258 hrivnia to 500 (73 euro), pensions and family benefit for the second children to 15,000 hrivnia (2,100 euro), the country will join the WTO (World Trade Organisation), trade with the EU will be increased and a professional army will be established in 2010.
The Head of State also wants to reform the privatisation system and that of the sale of land.
The Regions Party led by the Prime Minister is campaigning under the banner of "Stability and Well Being." He is proposing a 25% increase in salary per year and a reform of the retirement system. Viktor Yanukovich is confident that he will win on 30th September next. "The Ukrainians are tired of repeated elections, they want to look to the future," he stressed. The ruling party published a code of honour for the elections on 30th September which Our Ukraine-Self-Defence campaign director, Viktor Baloga, refused to sign.
Yulia Timoshenko wants to change the Ukraine's present situation in which "three or four families own everything and the people have to content themselves with the left-overs". She qualifies the Regions Party as "a twilight capital corporation". "Their only aim is to break everything and divide the people in order to take everything," she maintained adding that "this time they will not succeed." She is promising to start legal proceedings against Prime Minister Yanukovich and industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of SCM Holdings from the Donbass region. "I'd like Viktor Yanukovich and Rinat Akhmetov to know that I am not Viktor Yushenko and that I shall not grant them amnesty," she said indicating that if she came to power she would recommend a life sentence in prison for crimes of corruption. Finally, she is against the privatisation of agricultural land and hopes to review the gas agreements taken in 2006 with Russia. In a text published on the internet she maintains that she wants to re-privatise Dnipro Energo which belongs to Rinat Akhmetov.
Communist Party leader, Petro Simonenko, has mentioned the possibility of creating a blue- red coalition (blue for the Regions Party, red for the Communists) if an agreement between the two parties expressly stipulates that they are against Ukraine's accession to NATO, that they support the country's military neutrality, that they will apply the agreements on the simplified single market (which includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) and finally that they agree on Russian as being the country's second official language. Petro Simonenko simply wants to abolish the post of President of the Republic "which is taking the Ukraine towards dictatorship". The Communist leader maintains that Our Ukraine-Self-Defence and the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc are about to invalidate the election results and proclaim a direct presidential regime in the Ukraine. "The Communist Party of the Ukraine hopes to win between 10 and 12% of the vote in the general elections," declared parliamentary group leader Adam Martyniuk.
Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist Party leader and chair of parliament continues to say that these general elections are illegal. "These early general elections which have become an adventure desired by the President of the Republic are nothing more than a war against the Constitution, the judiciary reform and that of local governments," he declared. He maintains that the Head of State is a threat to the rule of law. "I believe we are about to experience major national fraud which will make the invalidation of the election possible," he repeated on 20th September last.
Former President of the Republic (1991-1994), Leonid Kravtchouk, was quick to say in the newspaper Delo on 16th September "that if the Regions Party won the President of the Repbulic could challenge the results and establish a direct presidential regime."
Natalia Vitrenko, leader of the Popular Natalia Vitrenko Bloc is extremely critical of the reforms undertaken over the last fifteen years and which have been achieved "on the order of the IMF and which have led to the continuous decline of the Ukrainian people and to a take-over of the country's factories by foreign and national oligarchs." Against the Ukraine entering the EU, she says she does support its accession to the simplified single market "that would open up major markets to the country and would boost the national economy." Finally, she is promising in the event victory, to quadruple the minimum salary and to triple the minimum retirement pension.
On 13th September Natalia Vitrenko complained that she was not being invited to the TV debates saying that the electoral campaign was undertaken by a triumvirate of "the orange movement, the oligarchs and the medias who were serving the latter two."
The danger for President Viktor Yushenko is that the results of these elections will be almost identical with those produced in the last election (26th March 2006) and that they will not provide the "spark" that has been hoped for. If the Orange clan wins the creation of a government will not be easy since the rivalry between individuals and the political disagreements are numerous between Our Ukraine-Self-Defence and the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc. "Of course I would prefer an Orange Coalition. But if an Orange Coalition is formed as in 2006, simply based on the distribution of portfolio, it will not work. The idea is not to form a coalition against someone but to determine the issues on which we can agree," maintained Viktor Yushenko in the Figaro on 11th September.
Although Yuri Lutsenko has rejected any notion of a coalition between Our Ukraine-Self-Defence and the Regions Party he also said in an interview with the daily Korrespondent at the beginning of September, "The primary aim of Ukraine-Self-Defence is to win enough votes to form a coalition with the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc, the second being to win enough votes to dampen Yulia Timoshenko's enthusiasm for populist projects."
"70% of the electorate only know the five major political parties. The Ukrainians are not well informed about the programmes of the various parties. Their choice is based on affinities," says Irina Bekechkina, director of Democratic Initiatives.
Four polls were published on 14th September last. The publishing of polls is prohibited in the Ukraine in the fortnight preceding the election.
All forecast that the Regions Party will win. It is due to win between 29% and 34.7% of the votes. The Yulia Timoshenko Bloc is due to come second (22%-25.7%) followed by Our Ukraine-Self-defence (11.9%-15.2%), then the Communist Party (2.7%-5.9%), the Litvine Bloc (3%-5.6%) and the Socialist Party (1.6%-3%).
The "EU-Ukraine" Summit was held in Kiev on 14th September. Viktor Yushenko said that he "was satisfied with the level of co-operation" between his country and the EU. Prime Minister Yanukovich has said that "relations between the EU-Ukraine were worsening," saying that the new agreements signed between Kiev and Brussels will make the entry of Ukrainian produce on the European market even more difficult.
"We came as partners and as friends who believe in the future of the Ukraine," declared European Commission President José Manuel Barroso who said he was pleased "with the improvement in Euro-Ukrainian relations" and again said that "it was important to achieve stability so that the Ukraine would concentrate its energy on undertaking reforms" . European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, stressed "that constitutional reform will be necessary after the elections to provide the Ukraine with the stability it requires." She said that she was confident in seeing the establishment of a new visa system at the end of the year. The visas the Ukrainians need to travel to one of the EU member States will be cheaper and easier to obtain. They will be free for executives, scientists, students and young people aged under 21.
CFSP High Representative, Javier Solana gave an interview on 15th September in the weekly Zerkalo Nedeli saying "the administrative confusion caused by the constitutional reform of 2004 simply led to a battle for power that is growing more acute with the weakness of the political institutions as the backdrop to this. Primarily this is the problem that has to be solved by the general elections."