However, those hoping for a new political opening in Ukraine in the fall may be deeply disappointed. There are hardly any new ideas in election programs and hardly any new names on election lists compared with those during the 2006 elections. And public-opinion surveys in Ukraine suggest that the alignment of forces in a future legislature may be very similar to that in the current one.
The main contenders in this year's preterm elections are the same as those in the regular parliamentary elections in March 2006: the Party of Regions, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. The only difference is that the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc was just Our Ukraine last year, without the People's Self-Defense component later created by former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko.
Party Of Regions
The Party of Regions led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych -- which held its showy, Western-style election convention in Kyiv on August 4 -- declared that it will focus on economic and social issues in the ongoing campaign, thus hushing up its former concerns about giving the Russian language official status and fostering the electorate's anti-NATO sentiments in Ukraine.
Yanukovych has apparently decided to capitalize on a fairly strong economic performance of his two cabinets, the current one and that in 2002-04. Warding off President Viktor Yushchenko's recent criticism of the economic situation, Yanukovych's press service reminded Ukrainians that the economy grew by 9.6 percent in 2003 and by 12 percent in 2004, adding that in 2005, when the Orange Revolution government took over, economic growth fell to 2.7 percent. Since August 2006, when Yanukovych became prime minister for the second time, average economic growth has stood at 8 percent, the press service stressed.
Moreover, Yanukovych has outstripped Yushchenko in pledges to overcome Ukraine's protracted demographic crisis, in which the number of Ukrainians shrank from 52 million in 1992 to 46.5 million in 2007. In June, Yushchenko promised to increase a state allowance for the second and every subsequent child born to families from the current 8,000 hryvnyas ($1,600) to 15,000 hryvnyas. Yanukovych promised at the August 4 convention that if he wins the elections, his government will increase this payment to 25,000 hryvnyas for the second child and to 50,000 hryvnyas for every additional child.
Yanukovych surprised his adherents and opponents with two more election devices. He used a teleprompter to read his speech at the election convention, a hitherto unheard-of practice in Ukrainian politics. And he referred to God in his concluding words, which was also a first for him: "We are heading straight for the victory with firm steps! The Lord God help us!"
The top 10 candidates of the Party of Regions are exclusively former lawmakers. The Party of Regions election ticket includes five current deputy prime ministers and 11 ministers.
Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc
A convention of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc on August 5, even if less pompous and less technologically advanced than that of the Party of Regions, was also eye-catching.
The bloc's leader, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, had all delegates to the convention put on white T-shirts with a red heart and the inscription "Yulya" on them. In general, the initial letter of her first name -- the Cyrillic "Yu" -- has seemingly become a new graphic symbol of the bloc, since it was utilized in many slogans and inscriptions visible at the convention, including the phrase "I love Yu." Tymoshenko, who in the past frequently appeared in trendy and costly outfits from Europe's top fashion designers, this time donned a Ukrainian folk-style dress.
The convention adopted an election manifesto called "Ukrainian Breakthrough," which has so far not been revealed to the public, including the bloc's ordinary members and supporters. But Tymoshenko provided a glimpse into the program at the convention when she proposed that corrupt officials be punished with imprisonment for life and that judges be elected by popular vote.
The top 10 candidates of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc are exclusively former legislators.
Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense
The Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc held its election convention on August 7. The forum was attended by President Yushchenko, who blessed what he described as the unification of Ukrainian democratic forces into a single bloc for the early polls. And he seemed to indicate a spiritual direction for the bloc when he stated that, "Our ideal is a powerful state, a single people, a single official language, a single Christian Orthodox Church, and a single nation."
The pro-presidential bloc adopted an election manifest titled "For People, Not For Politicians," which calls for abolishing parliamentary immunity, canceling privileges for lawmakers, setting up a national anticorruption bureau, and forming an independent body to vet all judges.
Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of the bloc, claimed in a passionate speech at the August 7 convention that the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense election list does not include people who "went whoring" in the past or betrayed the 2004 Orange Revolution. He specifically mentioned Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs leader Anatoliy Kinakh and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in this regard, branding them "Judases" for their alliance with the Party of Regions.
The top 10 candidates of the bloc include only one new name, that of television journalist Volodymyr Aryev. The remaining nine are either former lawmakers or people already known in politics, such as Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko.
The least conspicuous of recent election gatherings in Ukraine was that of the Socialist Party on August 4. According to all opinion surveys, the Socialist Party will be fighting for survival in this election. Its popularity rating is currently well below the 3 percent threshold that qualifies for parliamentary representation.
Moroz on August 4 condemned the upcoming elections as an "adventurous" and "illegitimate" event, claiming that their main objectives are to remove the Socialists from parliament, "draw" Ukraine into NATO, and "cause a quarrel" between Ukraine and Russia.
Public-opinion polls conducted in Ukraine in June and July suggest that the elections will be won by the Party of Regions with 30-33 percent of the vote, while second place will be contested by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (14-17 percent) and Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (13-15 percent). The Communist Party should gain 3-5 percent of the vote.
The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc has definitely ruled out any postelection coalition with the Party of Regions. Yanukovych at the August 4 convention expressed his preference for a "grand" coalition, but mentioned no specific forces. Lutsenko on August 7 admitted that it is possible for his bloc to cooperate with Yanukovych's people in parliament but excluded any governing alliance with them. In short, the starting political preferences of Ukraine's key political players before the September 2007 elections are almost the same as those before the March 2006 polls.