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Ukraine: Hunt For Allies Begins After Parliamentary Elections

  • Kathleen Moore

Ukraine's 31 March parliamentary election looks set to return a hung parliament, with no clear majority for any party. With seats divided among reformers, Communists, and pro-presidential parties, political leaders will be looking for partners to form alliances within the chamber.

Prague, 2 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The result of the close parliamentary race in Ukraine on 31 March means there is no outright winner with a majority in the new parliament.

The reformist Our Ukraine bloc came out on top with almost 24 percent of the vote, ahead of the Communists with 20 percent. For a United Ukraine -- often called the party of power because of its ties to President Leonid Kuchma -- trailed in third place with around 12 percent.

But that is just part of the story, since only half the 450 seats up for grabs are decided on a party-list system. The other 225 paliamentary deputies are elected in first-past-the-post constituencies, where the pro-presidential bloc picked up a large share of seats.

Altogether, the results look likely to produce a hung parliament. Our Ukraine, with some 112 seats, will edge out the Communists as the biggest grouping. For a United Ukraine will have about 104 seats, while independent candidates will have the next-largest presence, some 92 seats. The Communists will have 66 seats.

Three other main groupings will have between 20 and 25 seats each. Two of these are anti-Kuchma -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc and Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party. One other party -- Viktor Medvedchuk's centrist Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united -- has had close ties to the president in the past.

Two other small parties failed to cross the 4-percent threshold but managed to pick up four seats each in the "majority" constituencies.

Observers' views on the elections have been mixed. Some see it as a relative victory for Yushchenko, while others point to the stronger-than-expected showing for the pro-Kuchma bloc. And others say the biggest change is the Communists' poor showing.

But one thing is certain: it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to form a fixed, workable majority in the new chamber.

"The new parliament guarantees a spectacle. But what about reforms?" the daily "Den" asked. "The answer to the main question -- whether the 2002 elections were a step forward on the path to democracy for Ukraine -- is not clear-cut," it added.

Kuchma said yesterday that he is open to cooperation with "all constructive forces" in parliament. And Yushchenko urged all "democratic forces" to unite. But that's easier said than done. Political analyst Mikhail Pogrebinskii summed up the situation by saying, "There's one faction that hasn't declared its opposition to [Kuchma's] For a United Ukraine yet -- that's the Social Democrats. All the others are opposition [parties], against the party of power in one way or another. So the party of power can't form a majority. Our Ukraine can't form a majority either. Its allies could be Moroz's [Socialist] bloc [or] the Tymoshenko bloc, but together they won't get a majority."

There is a bewildering array of potential coalition scenarios. Analysts say alliances are likely to shift depending on what topics are being discussed, and the Communists are likely to be key. Pogrebinskii said they will vote with either side.

"The Communists play their own separate fiddle. Sometimes they will vote with the opposition and sometimes with the government. So, as yet, the situation is such that it's impossible to form a stable majority."

Taras Kuzio, an expert on Ukraine at the University of Toronto, described the likely outcome as a "fluid parliament," with alliances cobbled together on a piece-by-piece basis. He cited a recent example: Last year the Communists united with politicians loyal to big-business interests, the oligarchs, to oust Yushchenko from his post as prime minister.

"The Yushchenko bloc will certainly cooperate with some of the pro-presidential parties on maybe some reformist issues like privatization or other areas. But on some other things they will not be able to cooperate. Yushchenko himself has said he will never cooperate with the Social Democrats or the Communists. The oligarch pro-presidential parties will cooperate with anyone they want to and, as we saw when they ousted the Yushchenko government, the oligarchs can, if need be, cooperate with the Communists," Kuzio said.

Kuzio noted that there are several areas likely to spark conflict straightaway in the new parliament. For a start, the Communists and Socialists, along with the Tymoshenko bloc, say their priority is to impeach Kuchma, who has been shadowed by corruption allegations and scandals, including accusations he conspired to intimidate and kill political opponents.

This could spell trouble for Kuchma, especially if he wants a third term in office or to implement the results of a controversial referendum two years ago that would give him increased powers over parliament. Both these moves would require a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Another result of the hung parliament is that it is likely to complicate potential cabinet changes. Kuzio said: "Theoretically, the parliamentary majority should select the government, which is then okayed by the president, but as there won't really be a parliamentary majority, it's difficult to see how the parliament can select its own government. So I suspect that the president will try to control the government as much as possible [and] try to control who is in the government. For the president the stakes are high because he has to find a successor to him [sic], and that's usually someone coming from either the parliamentary leadership positions or the government, and that person has got to give him immunity from prosecution."

Kuzio said if current Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh stays, it is only for lack of a suitable alternative, as he is a "compromise" choice.

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