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Ukraine: Opponents Accuse President Of Abusing Powers Of Incumbency

  • Lily Hyde



Incumbent Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is running for re-election on an anti-communist platform. But opponents accuse him of abusing his position of power to win the election using old Soviet-style techniques of state interference. RFE/RL contributor Lily Hyde files this report from Kyiv.

Kyiv, 29 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- On Kyiv's main square, where a statue of Lenin once stood, a large billboard usually features paintings for public celebrations like Independence Day. But last weekend it carried a poster for Zlahoda, the public organization working for Leonid Kuchma's re-election.

Beneath it, Zlahoda members waved banners and handed out leaflets. Loudspeakers blared Kuchma's name, as they have for weeks.

The display is not a rarity -- Kuchma's campaign has a high profile unmatched by any opposition candidate. Kuchma's staff explain the discrepancy simply; they say he has the most well-organized and well-funded campaign organization. His opponents counter by saying Kuchma has the whole state administration behind him in Sunday's election. They note Kuchma posters have gone up in schools and hospitals and endorsements by local officials appear in the media.

After she survived a grenade attack early this month, leftist opposition candidate Natalya Vitrenko further alleged that security forces had been told to protect only Kuchma. Others have accused Kuchma of using state funds to finance his campaign.

Opposition candidate Oleksandr Moroz has been subject to a media smear campaign, including the mass distribution via the post office of two issues of a faked pro-Moroz newspaper. Moroz's chief campaign aide, Josip Vinsky, says his campaigners have been thrown out of their offices by security forces and banned from using public spaces. He tells RFE/RL that Moroz posters have been torn down by police while local officials are openly endorsing Kuchma.

"If you analyze the pre-election situation you can call it a state coup. The executive power is acting not on the basis of law but on the basis of oral instructions of one person, the president. It is written in state law that civil servants do not have the right to agitate and visibly support this or that candidate. Here we have the opposite."

Kuchma's public response is that all these complaints are a dirty tactic from candidates who know they cannot beat him honestly. International and Ukrainian observers, however, are taking the charges seriously. The reports brought Council of Europe rapporteurs to Ukraine earlier this month and persuaded the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to expand its monitoring program ahead of the election.

Ukrainian political analyst Mykola Tomenko tells RFE/RL local administrations are clearly working on behalf of the president.

"Today we have all grounds to say local administrations control the majority of local mass media, and in this way they incorrectly inform the population about the candidates and about the conduct of the electoral campaign. Local administrations are participating in illegal actions that lead to fraud in the elections. According to the law they have no right to act either for or against any candidate. They are violating the law twice over by actively campaigning for Kuchma and agitating against other candidates."

At Kuchma's campaign headquarters, located in a building housing ministries and state organizations, campaign staff do not deny that local authorities are openly endorsing Kuchma, contrary to election laws. But Mykhailo Batih from the press service and his colleague, chief analyst Volodymyr Tsibulko, tell RFE/RL the central administration is not responsible for the violations. They say any violation by local officials is a reflection of their understanding of the election's importance.

"There are cases where the local governors have agitated, like in Lviv, where the local authorities were not only ratified by the president but elected by the people. Mayors are declaring themselves for the president, saying that other variants, electing the Reds or the communists, will threaten Ukraine as a country. From the point of view of British democracy this is rudely breaking democratic standards. But from the point of view of our democracy if Kuchma lost and Vitrenko or [Petro] Symonenko win...."

Tsibulko completes the sentence:

"It means no democracy and no Ukraine will exist anymore."

Observers and Kuchma opponents say local authorities are directly influencing the vote by telling state employees like teachers and collective farm workers they must vote a certain way. Political analyst Tomenko recounts how on a recent visit to his home town the local administration head said he had been given a list of percentages of Kuchma votes he should ensure from different villages.

The Kuchma campaign's Tsibulko does not deny such things might be happening. But he tells RFE/RL the orders do not come from above. He says Ukraine is a large country and it is not possible to monitor what happens in every town and village.

"Many initiatives appear in local areas which are inappropriate. This is not initiated by pressure from the top."

Tsibulko says it was impossible for the presidential administration to pressure elected local officials. But Tomenko disagrees. He says heads of regional and state administrations are appointed directly by the president, while elected heads of towns and cities are susceptible to budgetary pressure. Tomenko:

"I have been present on occasions when popular locally elected mayors have been forced to agitate for Leonid Kuchma, because if they do so the state will support certain social programs. If they don't the city won't get state support for these programs. Today even people elected by the local population are completely dependent on the president."

The state administration also had a direct hand in the appointment of the city mayor in two of Ukraine's richest cities, Kyiv and Odessa. In Kyiv the city head was removed by force and replaced by a Kuchma appointee before an election law for the city was passed. In Odessa, the popular mayor was also forced out of office by security forces and replaced with a Kuchma supporter when the central administration alleged misconduct and fraud. The Council of Europe complained of illegal state interference in both cases.

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