Some Ukrainian commentators jokily described the Our Ukraine People's Union as the country's first "party of power" that is simultaneously a "people's party." Which is true to a large extent if one takes into account the party's current membership. The delegates to the constituent congress, who automatically became full-fledged NSNU members, comprised both current government officials from Kyiv and rank-and-file activists of the 2004 Yushchenko presidential campaign from the provinces.
However, some circumstances under which the NSNU came into being and some developments during the congress have left many wondering whether the pro-Yushchenko party is not primarily poised to prefer the interests of the government to those of the people.
It was widely expected that Yushchenko would build a new political force based on parties participating in his Our Ukraine parliamentary bloc. This, however, did not happen. The NSNU constituent congress was organized by the public movement "For Ukraine! For Yushchenko!" coordinated by the president's older brother, Petro Yushchenko, as well as by some government officials from Kyiv and regional governors. President Yushchenko had apparently failed to mobilize his major allies from the Orange Revolution -- notably Yuriy Kostenko's Ukrainian People's Party and Borys Tarasyuk's People's Rukh of Ukraine -- for the idea of a single party.
It is also not known for the time being whether the Our Ukraine Party (formerly the Reforms and Order Party) led by current Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk will join the NSNU. Pynzenyk reregistered his party last year under the new name, which is commonly associated with Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution, in the apparent anticipation of the emergence of a united pro-Yushchenko force after the 2004 presidential election. Pynzenyk most likely expected that his renamed party would serve as a basis for such a consolidation. However, he was not given any role in forming the NSNU, and Yushchenko did not even mention Pynzenyk's Our Ukraine Party in his address to the 5 March congress.
What Yushchenko did mention was an expected election coalition of the NSNU with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Agrarian Party of Ukraine led by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. "Today and many times [earlier] I told Yuliya Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko -- we see you in 2006 in one team with us," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted Yushchenko as saying. "Volodymyr Mikhaylovych Lytvyn! We see [us] in 2006 in one team [consisting of] the Our Ukraine People's Union, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Agrarian Party of Ukraine."
As regards the hitherto allied parties that evolved from Vyacheslav Chornovil's Rukh -- Kostenko's Ukrainian People's Party and Tarasyuk's People's Rukh of Ukraine -- Yushchenko did not leave any doubt that they may either be absorbed by the NSNU or go their own way. "I have been saddened by the [intention] of our two partners, the Ukrainian People's Party and the People's Rukh of Ukraine, to go for the 2006 election on their own," Yushchenko said. "This is a mistake, but these people had the right to adopt the resolution they adopted.... Our doors will remain open." But he immediately qualified his "open-door policy" by reiterating his vision of a pro-presidential political alliance in 2006: "There will be a single coalition of the three forces [NSNU, Lytvyn's party, Tymoshenko's bloc]. This is our credo on which we stand."
The election of the NSNU's leading bodies, the council and the executive committee, reportedly took place by an undemocratic procedure -- delegates to the congress were provided with a list of 120 members for the NSNU Council, which was prepared in advance by unknown people, and approved the list in one single vote, without discussing individual candidates. Delegates from Donetsk Oblast tried to protest the candidates proposed to the NSNU Council from their region but were reportedly outwitted by those who presided over the congress -- the Donetsk delegates were promised a repeat vote during a later stage of the congress but this never happened.
The NSNU's "Political Bureau" -- the 21-member Presidium of the NSNU Council -- includes such persons as Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertnyy, Youth and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Emergency Minister Davyd Zhvaniya, Culture Minister Oksana Bilozir, top presidential aide Oleksandr Tretyakov, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, and a group of pro-Yushchenko lawmakers.
In short, the NSNU looks very much like a party of Ukraine's newly established nomenklatura or like the Popular Democratic Party founded as a "party of power" in 1996 for the Kuchma era. Today, the Popular Democratic Party, which still has a dozen deputies in the Verkhovna Rada, seems to be nearing an unavoidable political demise in the 2006 election, when only parties winning no less than 3 percent of the vote nationally are to be rewarded with parliamentary seats.
The pro-Yushchenko NSNU, as a party based on time-serving political interests rather than on a consistent ideology and program, may well repeat the fate of the pro-Kuchma Popular Democratic Party, though this is unlikely to happen in 2006. It seems that Yushchenko can be sure of a considerable gain of parliamentary seats in 2006 for his supporters in the planned coalition with Tymoshenko and Lytvyn. What happens after that is anybody's guess. But the fact that Yushchenko's is following Kuchma's footsteps in building a political base for his presidency is already troubling, to say the least.