Prague, 2 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- There is growing concern in the immediate aftermath of the Ukrainian parliamentary election that the contest set back, rather than improved, the country's fortunes. The election strengthened the numerical parliamentary representation of the three leftist groups, particularly the well-organized Communists, but left them without a majority needed to block or pass legislation.
Five centrist parties won seats in the new parliament, but only two of them are supportive of the sitting President Leonid Kuchma, and all are distrustful of, and antagonistic toward, one another.
A relatively large group of independently elected deputies represents a politically unknown force, and it is too early to assume that they may act together on any particular issue.
The parliament is certain to remain deeply divided, as it has been in recent years. The election resolved nothing, merely reinforcing the existing political disarray.
At the same time, more than a third of the electorate voted for numerous minor parties, most of them right-wing, that failed to pass the four percent parliamentary-entry hurdle. This sector of the population remains politically disenfranchised.
The German newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau" yesterday said that the results of the election represented "a hindrance to democratic development" in Ukraine. London's "Financial Times" today warns in an editorial of "Kyiv stalemate." And the American "Wall Street Journal" worries that "Ukraine is set to fall further behind." All three newspapers focus their concerns on two important issues: Ukraine's economic viability and political stability.
Ukraine has suffered a long period of economic decline, with industrial and agricultural productions plummeting and standard of living constantly falling. Attempts to change the traditional, command-style economy, into a modern, market-oriented one, have been relatively sporadic and largely ineffective. They have merely facilitated the creation of a growing gap between a small moneyed elite -- largely recruited from the old Communist nomenklatura -- and the increasingly impoverished masses.
The new parliament in unlikely to change this situation, as few of the representative groups show inclination seriously to work toward much-needed reforms. Their main interest seems to be in preserving rather than changing their own positions and interests. Some of them, for example the Hromada party of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, represents the energy supply business of Dniepropetrovsk, while the Communist deputies include many directors of large state companies and conglomerates. Any reform could affect their interests.
In this situation, it will be difficult to persuade foreign investors to become involved in Ukraine's economy. Next week, an IMF delegation is to arrive in Kyiv to examine Ukraine's progress in fulfilling the terms of the recently suspended 12-month loan. The loan is unlikely to be reactivated, considering the existing budget deficit and persistent delays in privatizing state enterprises.
Any further foreign funding depends on the government's willingness and ability to continue reforms, a prospect made unlikely by the openly declared hostility to such changes by the leftist groups. Uncertainty continues to affect the political situation as well.
Having experienced many years of incessant conflicts between the president and the left-dominated parliament, Ukraine is certain to suffer even more now with the president weakened by the further upsurge of the left. This is particularly serious in view of next year's presidential election.
Indeed, with the end of the parliamentary electoral campaign, the country now enters the prolonged campaign for presidency. This is likely, or even certain, to dominate the parliamentary operation from now on, rather than any consideration of economic changes and reforms.
If anything, this is likely to bring a severe setback to any efforts to build a modern civil society. Both the proponents and the opponents of President Kuchma are likely to favor populist moves, geared to garner immediate popular approval that will only undermine institutional stability.
Kuchma himself has already entered on the populist path, authorizing, on the eve of the election, the use of the IMF loan to settle back wages and pacify the wrath of the population -- the arrears of wages and salaries oscillate around $2.7 billion. It is unlikely that this practice would end in the months ahead, in the view of the approaching presidential contest. And there is little doubt that the parliament would used similar tactics to compete with the president.
And so, the prospects for the months to come are not very encouraging. But, on the other hand, the dire predictions of Ukraine's collapse and political, as well as economic downfall, are still far from reality.
There is no doubt about the validity of the country's independence. Ukraine is certain to continue as a valid and permanent element of the European political landscape. None of the existing political groups of forces has so much as even tried to undermine that fact.
Neither is there any move to reverse the country's political or economic systems. There is widespread realization that there is no return to the Communist past, although nostalgia for certain social safety aspects of the Communist style of government remain still strong among many impoverished Ukrainian groups.
The crucial question today is whether Ukraine will remain a weak and unstable state, or develop into a stable and strong one. The recent parliamentary election has failed to provide an encouraging momentum for stable, strong development.