UKRAINE'S KUCHMA PROPOSES FREE-TRADE ZONE IN BLACK SEA REGION. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma addressed a 17 November informal summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSECO), which took place shortly before the OSCE summit in Istanbul, Interfax reported. Kuchma suggested that the creation of a free-trade zone in the region could give a "powerful impetus" to regional cooperation. He also noted that increased cooperation with the EU and membership in that organization is an "objective necessity for most members" of the BSECO. "We should synchronize to the maximum extent our actions with the EU, primarily in the economic sphere, and pool our efforts in order to prevent the appearance of new dividing lines on the Continent," he said. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER PROPOSES PARLIAMENTARY COALITION LINEUP. Valeriy Pustovoytenko on 17 November said a parliamentary pro-government majority can be set up with the participation of the Green Party, the Social Democratic Party (United), the two factions of the Popular Rukh, the Popular Democratic Party, the Rebirth of Regions group, the Labor Ukraine group, the Reform-Congress group, the Independents group, and nonaligned deputies. Kuchma's inauguration as president for a second term will take place on 30 November. According to Ukraine's Constitution, the old cabinet must resign immediately after the president's inauguration. The president appoints a new prime minister, who must be approved by at least 226 parliamentary deputies. The Popular Democratic Party on 17 November proposed its leader, current Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko, as head of a new cabinet. JM


Leonid Kuchma won a seemingly easy victory in the 14 November presidential runoff, gaining more than 56 percent of the vote, while his communist rival, Petro Symonenko, received some 38 percent backing. Kuchma commented the following day that nobody in Ukraine expected the incumbent to win by such a wide margin. And he suggested that his reelection means Ukrainians have chosen a "democratic way to build their country based on a market economy." Few observers of the Ukrainian political scene are likely to agree in full with Kuchma's interpretation of the ballot.

One reason for objecting to such an interpretation is that during his five years in office, Kuchma has shown himself to be neither a truly democratic head of state nor a true advocate of market economy. Both at home and abroad, he has been described as a half-hearted democrat and a halfhearted reformer.

Another reason is the large number of violations of voting and campaigning procedures that were pointed out not only by the incumbent's rivals in the race or his political foes but also by international observers. The executive's almost total control over the electronic media and its involvement in the incumbent's re-election campaign appear to have been the most instrumental in determining the final election outcome.

Despite these violations, no international body will question Kuchma's re-election. The OSCE--whose opinion on elections in post-communist Europe seems to play a leading role in determining their legitimacy--reported that 31 October first round of voting was fair. With regard to the second round, the OSCE reported many irregularities but did not suggest that they had a decisive affect on the outcome. "Serious violations"--including the executive's stifling the media and public officials' campaigning for Kuchma--were noted during the election campaign, but, again, the European election watchdog indicated no immediate link between them and the final result.

Still, the scent of foul play remains in the air. "The runoff result is not [the Communists'] defeat but the defeat of democracy in Ukraine," Symonenko commented. That opinion is clearly exaggerated, but it nevertheless underscores the fact that Kuchma did not give the Communists in Ukraine a fair chance.

Instead, the president's election team modeled his duel with Symonenko on Russia's 1996 runoff between Boris Yeltsin and Gennadii Zyuganov, scaring the electorate with the prospect of a Communist comeback and "red revenge." Between the first and second rounds, Ukraine's television fed voters with documentaries and films about Soviet-era repression and terror. The issue of building the country "based on a market economy" was present, if at all, only in the deepest background of the media campaign.

Under these circumstances, Ukrainians voted on 14 November for what appeared the more secure option--namely, for the country's fragile socio-economic status quo under Kuchma--and against any radical changes in the country's course that were linked with Symonenko (or with his media image).

In 1991, Leonid Kravchuk's installment as the head of state took place on a nationwide wave of enthusiasm for an independent Ukraine. The 1994 election of Leonid Kuchma was an equally emotional event, marking a considerable ebb in national enthusiasm. Independent Ukraine's third presidential election--though bustling and enthusiastically fought by the presidential hopefuls--was a vote of weariness on the part of the electorate. Rather than enthusiasm for Kuchma's reformist effort, voters displayed skepticism about the ability of politicians to improve the economic situation by systemic change.

By the same token, Symonenko's not unimpressive electoral showing should not be interpreted as a sign that 10 million politically active Ukrainians want the return of communism. By casting their votes for Symonenko, many Ukrainians were in fact protesting their country's current economic plight, which is widely associated with Ukraine's failed attempts (under both Kravchuk and Kuchma) to follow a "Western path."

As expected, the presidential elections showed once again that Ukraine remains politically split into a Western, "nationalist" part and an Eastern, "socialist" one. This time, Kuchma received overwhelming support in western Ukraine. The dividing lines between east and west in Ukraine are somewhat blurred by Kuchma's fairly strong showing in such eastern regions as Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, or Kharkiv (where he beat Symonenko), but the overall "twonations -in-one" pattern has not changed. It seems that only a definite improvement in Ukraine's economy can heal the political, social, and--as Samuel Huntington put it-- "civilizational" cleft between these two parts of one country.

However, even if the full message of the Ukrainian presidential ballot is not easily identifiable, there is nonetheless strong ground for optimism, at least among Democrats. The re-election of Kuchma--a proponent of Ukraine's rapprochement with the West--is a good omen for all those in the post-Soviet area (notably in Russia and Belarus) who oppose the Communist-sponsored idea of restoring some kind of USSR in the form of a "Slavic union." Without Ukraine, such a union makes no sense, either politically or economically. And it appears that Kuchma is bent on continuing to strongly oppose that restoration effort.