RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 12, 17 August 1999

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Staff of RFE/RL Newsline


UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: SEEKING A DISTINCTIVE IMAGE. By the 1 August deadline, Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission had registered nine candidates for the 31 October presidential elections: President Leonid Kuchma, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Progressive Socialist Party chairwoman Natalya Vitrenko, former Premier Yevhen Marchuk, Cherkasy Mayor Volodymyr Oliynyk, as well as Hennadiy Udovenko and Yuriy Kostenko, leaders of the two splinter groups of the Popular Rukh.

Following complaints by six other aspirants, the Supreme Court ordered the commission also to register Social Democratic Party leader Vasyl Onopenko, Mykola Haber of the Patriotic Party, Oleksandr Rzhavskyy of the Single Fatherland party, Oleksandr Bazylyuk of the Slavic Party, and Vitaliy Kononov of the Green Party. The Supreme Court is still considering the appeal of the only remaining presidential hopeful: Yuriy Karmazin of the Party of the Fatherland's Defenders.

The sheer number of presidential hopefuls makes an analysis of their election prospects a complicated task. Moreover, virtually all of the incumbent president's main rivals come from the left of the political spectrum, as a result of which their election programs are frequently similar, if not identical, on a variety of issues. But this state of affairs is problematic not only for analysts. The candidates themselves are experiencing difficulties forging their own distinctive political identity among the dozen or so competitors. For this reason, the main candidates are not only presenting their political platforms but are also seeking to project a "mythologized" image. Such images are usually limited to a handful of slogans, but it seems that such devices may be at least as important as official programs in mustering votes on 31 October.

Incumbent President Kuchma is constantly present in the Ukrainian media and therefore has no need to seek to project his image in any special way. His re-election bid is handicapped, however, by Ukraine's disastrous economic situation. While keeping silent on economic issues, Kuchma's image-makers advertise him as a world statesman and the only Ukrainian politician who has some clout in the West. According to them, Kuchma is the only guarantor of Ukraine's transformation, and his re-election would mean the continuation of current reforms.

Communist Party leader Symonenko lacks luster as a politician, but his assets include the unwavering support of the largest caucus in the parliament as well as that of disillusioned pensioners and the unemployed, who are openly nostalgic for the Soviet era. Symonenko promotes himself as the defender of the "ordinary people," an enemy of international financial organizations, and a proponent of Ukraine's integration with Russia and Belarus.

Progressive Socialist Party chairwoman Vitrenko is the most radical and populist presidential candidate among those on the left wing. While earlier she had vehemently promoted herself as the only "true Marxist" in Ukraine, she now prefers to underscore her economic education and doctorate. Her "reform" program advocates reintroducing a command economy, halting privatization, and breaking all relations with the IMF and the World Bank. She sharply criticizes both Communist Symonenko and Socialist Moroz as "opportunists" and "betrayers" of the socialist idea.

Socialist Party leader Moroz trails far behind Symonenko and Vitrenko in the polls, but this has not stopped him from asserting that he is the only leftist candidate able to defeat Kuchma. (It is expected that no candidate will win the first round of elections on 31 October and that Kuchma will face a left-wing rival two weeks later.) Moroz claims to be a moderate leftist who can attract communist, socialist, and social democratic votes. His party's newspaper, "Tovarysh" (Comrade), promotes him as an "intelligent" and "decent" man.

Former Premier Marchuk is presented--especially by the newspaper "Den," which he sponsors--as a "strongman," a kind of Ukrainian General de Gaulle, whom the country urgently needs as it sinks into socio-economic chaos and is plagued by widespread corruption. Marchuk's campaigners make much of his former capacity as Ukraine's Security Service chairman--with the rank of general, no less--as proof that he is able to do away with corruption. (By the same token, they fail to mention his Soviet KGB activities). His main election slogan affirms that Ukraine can overcome the current crisis "on its own." He also tries to pose as a centrist equally suited to representing both the western and eastern parts of Ukraine.

While Tkachenko emphasizes his grass-roots origins and political career (he was born into a peasant family and ascended all steps of the Soviet state and party hierarchy, from raion head to first deputy prime minister), he projects the image of the people's savior (who has a program of economic revival until 2015) and of a statesman equal in rank and importance to the incumbent president. "I am not the first person in Ukraine, but neither am I the second" is his well-publicized self-appraisal. Tkachenko is also a staunch supporter of Ukrainian integration with Russia and Belarus.

Other candidates appear less outspoken than the six "heavyweights" listed above. However, their role in the overall distribution of votes on 31 October should not be underestimated. While lacking significant electoral support and/or distinctive media images, they may nonetheless have an influence on the final tallies of those leading the polls. And by voicing their preferences for the anticipated second round, they may tip the election balance in favor of one of the two final candidates.

"In Belarus's current situation, we cannot resort to pure market methods. First, there is no market. Second, we have the Chornobyl [aftermath]." -- Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Linh to a World Bank representative on 10 August.

"As regards the number of foreign visits and the number of man-days spent on foreign trips, Leonid Kuchma and 'other officials' accompanying him can definitely claim a prominent place in the Guinness Book of Records. The education in diplomacy of the president and his team at the expense of taxpayers has acquired a total character in space and time. Every foreign trip of Leonid Kuchma not only brings new geographical discoveries but also makes [us] familiar with various overseas 'economic wonders.' Those trips are followed by the construction of new strategic triangles and geopolitical axes as well as the mapping out of new 'silk routes' and the laying of new pipelines that lead, as a principle, to nowhere. Naturally, Ukraine, as the geographical center of Europe, is given a priority in all those presidential constructions." -- "Komunist" on 12 August.

RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

UKRAINE'S MARCHUK SAYS AUTHORITIES BLOCKING PRESIDENT'S RIVALS. Yevhen Marchuk, former prime minister and a presidential candidate, has accused the government of blocking his and other candidates' presidential campaigns to ensure President Leonid Kuchma's reelection, AP reported on 16 August. "Public servicemen, who are paid by the state...are being used in Kuchma's election campaign," Marchuk noted. He said police disrupted his meeting with voters in Luhansk on 14 August by citing a bomb threat and ordering all those present out of the building. According to Marchuk, the event was a "provocation" staged by the authorities to prevent him from meeting with voters. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES BILL GRANTING IMMUNITY TO LOCAL DEPUTIES. Kuchma has refused to sign a bill amending the law on the status of local council deputies. The changes, approved by the parliament on 15 July, stipulated that local deputies cannot be detained or arrested "without approval by corresponding local councils until a verdict of guilty has been declared by court," the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported on 16 August. Kuchma argued that the constitution grants legal immunity only to parliamentary deputies, judges, and the president and does not mention local council deputies. JM

LAST COMPETITOR JOINS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE. Ukraine's Supreme Court has ordered the Central Electoral Commission to register Yuriy Karmazin, leader of the Party of the Fatherland's Defenders, as a presidential candidate, the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported on 16 August. The commission previously refused registration to Karmazin, recognizing as valid only some 849,000 signatures out of the 1.7 million he had submitted. Karmazin will be the 15th and last presidential hopeful to be registered. JM