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UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION PROPOSES TWO QUESTIONS FOR ANTI-KUCHMA REFERENDUM... Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, announced on 3 May that some 400 activists of the Forum of National Salvation have approved two questions for a nationwide referendum, Interfax and AP reported. The first question voters will be asked is whether they agree that President Leonid Kuchma is responsible for Ukraine's ills such as economic downfall, corruption, as well as the decline in people's welfare, and should therefore resign. The second question is whether voters agree that Kuchma has created an "antidemocratic and authoritarian regime" and that parliament, rather than the president, should have the final say in appointing government members. The Central Electoral Commission may approve a referendum if its organizers gather no less than 3 million valid voter signatures in at least two-thirds of Ukraine's regions, with no less than 100,000 signatures representing each region. JM
...WHICH IS SAID TO HAVE 'TOTAL SUPPORT.' Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko said on 3 May that the idea of seeking Kuchma's ouster through a referendum has the "total support" of society, Interfax reported. Tymoshenko noted that the anti-Kuchma referendum idea is already backed by 70 political parties and public organizations. "This is a supraparty idea," Tymoshenko added. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party has formed its own staff to organize a nationwide referendum to seek Kuchma's ouster. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz commented that his party endorses the idea of a "single nationwide referendum," adding that "we will work jointly but every one will be specifically responsible for his own area of work." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT GREETS JOURNALISTS ON PRESS FREEDOM DAY... President Kuchma has sent greetings to Ukrainian journalists on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Interfax reported on 3 May, quoting the presidential press service. Kuchma said in his message that "for Ukraine, where the building of democratic society values is under way, press freedom is of special importance." Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a U.S.-based human rights group, included Kuchma in its annual list of top "Enemies of the Press." The CPJ accused Kuchma of increasing the "habitual censorship of opposition newspapers," as well as attacks and threats against independent journalists. JM
...CRITICIZES SITUATION IN CRIMEA... Speaking in Simferopol on 3 May, Kuchma criticized the socio-economic situation in Crimea. In particular, Kuchma noted that only 90 "agricultural enterprises" were created in Crimea under Ukraine's agricultural transformation program, while Zhytomir Oblast has 500 such enterprises. He said the rate of privatization in Crimea is slower by half than in other Ukrainian regions. He also said Crimea's wage arrears have increased to 7 million hryvni ($1.3 million), adding to the problem of poverty and homeless children on the peninsula. Kuchma was also unhappy about the fact that Crimea, where Ukrainians constitute 26 percent of the approximately 2.5 million population, has only four Ukrainian-language schools. Touching upon the continuing standoff between the legislative and executive branches of the autonomous republic, Kuchma said the conflict is a "detonator that may blow up the socio-economic situation in the region." JM
...AND EXPRESSES CONFIDENCE IN UKRAINE'S STABILITY. Kuchma also said in Simferopol that the situation in the country remains stable despite the recent dismissal of Premier Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet. "Nothing happened. This is a general formula -- the parliament passes a no-confidence vote in a cabinet, the cabinet steps down," he commented. Kuchma believes that Ukraine has recently witnessed a "powerful anti-Ukrainian action staged for sums that had been diverted from Ukraine abroad." Earlier the same day Kuchma promised to propose a candidate for the post of prime minister no later than 15 May (see also "End Note" below). JM
One answer to this question suggests itself almost automatically: another political turmoil in Ukraine. Irrespective of what form it may take, it will surely not benefit the country's economy.
The best scenario for the country would be to obtain a "technical premier" with no political ambitions; an administrator who would only look after the economy and prevent it from sliding into chaos until next year's parliamentary elections, which are generally expected to structure both the parliament and society to a far greater degree than they are structured now. One of the bleakest scenarios would be to install a Communist (or someone like Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko) in the post of prime minister and to subject Ukraine to a situation similar to that of Belarus's malady -- self-isolation from the West and reintegration with Russia. But for some reason, Ukrainian commentators and analysts exclude the possibility of a Communist being named prime minister from their various scenarios of future developments.
When 263 lawmakers voted on 26 April to oust Yushchenko for what they say was the government's unsatisfactory performance in 2000, there were few commentators in Ukraine or abroad who took this official explanation at face value. Indeed, under Yushchenko's cabinet Ukraine posted its first post-Soviet economic growth, restructured a total of $2.6 billion of commercial debt, stabilized the hryvnya, launched the privatization of collective farms, increased pensions by 40 percent, and -- according to official reports -- increased real incomes by some 6 percent. It should be noted that all of this was achieved without resorting to external loans. Even if some parameters of the "Reforms for Prosperity" program were not met by Yushchenko's cabinet, its term was in no way a complete failure.
As regards the ulterior motives for Yushchenko's dismissal, many commentators say Ukraine's oligarchic parties -- the Social Democratic Party (United), the Democratic Union, and the Labor Ukraine bloc -- want to take over the helm of power jointly with the Communist Party in order to better position themselves for next year's parliamentary elections. Some also believe Yushchenko's ouster was orchestrated by President Leonid Kuchma, who resented the premier's growing popularity among Ukrainians and, additionally, had long wanted to divert the public attention he attracted from the tape scandal implicating him in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. If this second supposition is true, then Kuchma may have seriously miscalculated the situation.
On the day Yushchenko was dismissed, another important vote took place in the Ukrainian parliament: 209 lawmakers voted to put Kuchma's impeachment on the parliamentary agenda (only 17 votes short of the required majority to launch a debate on the issue). The measure was supported by the Communist Party, the Fatherland Party, Rukh, and Solidarity groups (the "oligarchic parties" did not back that measure). But it was certainly a clear warning to Kuchma: Should he try to significantly impede the "Communist-oligarchic" takeover in Ukraine, it will be no problem to muster the 226 votes needed to put the impeachment issue on the agenda. Such a development, coupled with former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko's powerful push to organize an anti-Kuchma referendum, would make Kuchma's position extremely shaky, to the point that his pre-term exit would suddenly cease to be just a theoretical issue in the country.
If Kuchma understood the hint that lay in the impeachment debate vote, then he should propose a candidate to head the government who will be accepted primarily by oligarchs. But even such a move will not secure his future. If the Communists accept the leadership of the parliament as their reward for helping the oligarchs oust Yushchenko, then an oligarchic cabinet may try to get rid of Kuchma with more powerful levers than a parliamentary vote.
Yushchenko's future seems unclear as well. Many admit that by sticking to his political principles and refusing to bargain with oligarchic parties over his dismissal, Yushchenko has developed a political personality and now has a good chance to remain in the spotlight of Ukrainian politics for a long time -- and even to run for president. But as of now, he has neither clear political allies nor leverage in media (the state-controlled media work for Kuchma, while private ones work for various oligarchs). Yushchenko has announced that he does not want to be linked to any specific opposition party, but will try to build a broad, nationwide coalition of reformist forces -- a prudent statement by someone who aspires to become the president of all Ukrainians. But in actual fact, for the time being he can count only on support of the opposition groups united in the Forum of National Salvation and the For the Truth civic initiative. And these groups have so far been successfully marginalized by the state media and administration.
It is highly probable that in the near future we will be witnessing the competition of no less than four significant forces in the political arena in Ukraine: the pro-Kuchma administration; the oligarchs; the anti-Kuchma opposition, in an alliance with Yushchenko's "broad reformist coalition"; and the Communists (who are unlikely to remain for a long time in the current situational alliance with the oligarchs). Judging by all appearances, the impending political turmoil is set to be far greater than that provoked in the past by several standoffs between Kuchma and the parliament.