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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 12, 2002

12 November 2002, Volume 4, Number 43
SLD-UP WINS LOCAL ELECTIONS, BUT WILL IT RULE LOCALLY AS WELL? On 7 November, almost two weeks after the 27 October local elections, the State Election Commission announced official results of the polls for communal, district, and provincial councils. Turnout in the elections was 44.23 percent. The ruling coalition Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union (SLD-UP) won the elections at all levels of local government. The official results are as follows:

1. Communes ("gminy"): SLD-UP, 4,816 seats; the Peasant Party (PSL), 4,077; Self-Defense, 988; the League of Polish families (LPR), 779; Law and Justice (PiS), 207; Civic Platform (PO), 82; the PO-PiS election coalition, six; various local committees, 28,943.

2. Districts ("powiaty"): SLD-UP, 1,639 seats; PSL, 851; Self-Defense, 441; LPR, 194; PO, 48; PiS, zero; various local committees, 3,121.

3. Provinces ("wojewodztwa"): SLD-UP, 189 seats; Self-Defense, 101; LPR, 92; PO-PiS, 79; PSL, 58; PiS, 10; PO, five; other committees, 27.

PSL Chairman Jaroslaw Kalinowski, whose party is a government coalition partner of the SLD-UP bloc, has proposed to the opposition PO and PiS to hold talks on creating a "broad democratic coalition" in self-government at the provincial level, PAP reported on 6 November. "In our conviction, such an accord above party divisions is indispensable for the stabilization of the political stage and the economic development of Poland," Kalinowski wrote in his letter to the PO and PiS. On 7 November, Kalinowski said local-government coalition deals between the PSL and the PiS are possible in seven provinces.

Both PiS and PO leaders suggested that they are interested in the PSL proposal. "We will be holding these talks because it is necessary to create leaderships in local government...and because it is necessary to build trust...for after the next parliamentary elections," PiS parliamentary caucus head Jaroslaw Kaczynski said. His brother, PiS Chairman Lech Kaczynski, also said local coalitions between his group and the PSL are possible but added that the PSL proposal to hold talks with the opposition PiS and PO may be a tactical ploy to "blackmail its [government] coalition partners [the SLD-UP bloc] a bit." "Misleading prospective partners, including the PiS, would be a very foolish move by the PSL. It would mean the PSL would never again be considered a trustworthy partner by groups like ours and would remain stuck with the Democratic Left Alliance, whose prospects don't look too rosy today," Lech Kaczynski warned.

On the other hand, both the PiS and PO declared that they do not want to collaborate with the SLD-UP and Self-Defense in local government. "If the left [SLD-UP] wants to form a left-wing coalition, let it form it with Self-Defense and perhaps with the PSL. They will then be able to explain that we do not want to create a coalition," PAP quoted PO leader Maciej Plazynski as saying. Plazynski was obviously referring to last week's proposal by Sejm speaker Marek Borowski of the SLD, who called on the PO and the PiS to form "a coalition of pro-European parties" in provincial councils. "I think this is the right moment, when all those groupings that have pro-European programs, [or] at least those that are not anti-European,...should forget divisions between parties and aim at forming a coalition that is, I would say, above divisions," Borowski proposed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who declared on 4 November that the PSL would be the "most natural" coalition partner for the SLD-UP in local self-government, modified his position on the issue two days later. "Local-government elections are not parliamentary elections. The arrangement of forces in parliament does not have to be faithfully reflected in local-government coalitions. These are two completely different things, and this is the case throughout the whole world," PAP quoted Miller as saying on 6 November. Does this mean that the pro-European SLD-UP bloc -- spurned by the PiS and PO -- is ready to form self-government coalitions with the Euroskeptical Self-Defense? In fact, the local organizations of the SLD and Self-Defense in Lublin Province (eastern Poland) have already struck a deal to run the province without waiting for a decision from their party bosses in Warsaw.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski has suggested that he opposes forming local-level coalitions between the SLD-UP and Andrzej Lepper's Self-Defense and prefers a deal between the pro-European left and right wings in self-government. "For me, this is a very interesting test for the maturity of the Polish political stage -- how far the Polish left and how far the Polish right are ready to dispose of their historical burdens and to create a unique kind of compromise toward the future," PAP quoted Kwasniewski as saying on 6 November. (Jan Maksymiuk)

LUKASHENKA CRIES FOUL OVER RUSSIAN GAS-SUPPLY CUT. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 6 November blasted Moscow for applying "incredible" and "unprecedented" pressure on Minsk to force the sale of Belarus's Beltranshaz gas-transport company to Russia's Gazprom, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka's unusually emotional tirade against the Kremlin was provoked by Gazprom's decision as of 1 November to cut Russian gas supplies to Belarus by 50 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 November 2002). Gazprom said it has already met its 2002 target of subsidized gas exports to Belarus and added that it would resume full supplies if Belarus paid higher prices for additional deliveries. Gazprom simultaneously reminded Minsk that it owes some $250 million in unpaid gas bills.

While there have been comments in both Belarus and Russia asserting that the Kremlin may have wanted to punish Lukashenka for his reluctance to bend to the integration scenario preferred by Moscow, other analysts suggest that Russia's decision to cut gas supplies to Belarus was more likely prompted by demands from the European Union. These analysts argue that the EU wants Russia to somewhat equalize foreign and domestic gas tariffs as Moscow seeks to join the World Trade Organization. Currently, Gazprom charges Belarus $24.60 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas (the same price as for domestic consumers in Smolensk Oblast). At the same time, Gazprom sells gas to the West at $90-$130 per 1,000 cubic meters. These tariff discrepancies do not go well with the EU's decision last week to award Russia the status of a "market economy." The status gives Russian producers greater access to EU markets, but it could also lead to anti-dumping suits if their products are seen as subsidized by cheap gas.

Lukashenka seems to anticipate serious problems with warming some Belarusian homes during the upcoming winter because of Gazprom's gas-supply cut. Therefore, last week he mobilized all his eloquence to explain to his compatriots just who, in his opinion, may be responsible for possible problems during the winter heating season in Belarus. "I want people to understand me, so I will say this frankly: This [cut] is a political decision by the Kremlin," the Belarusian president said. "I was told point-blank: 'If you don't give away your property, we will have a different talk.' And they demanded that we immediately privatize Beltranshaz, that is, the pipelines that go across Belarus that we inherited from the Soviet Union. [They demanded] that we immediately privatize [Beltranshaz] and pass its shares to Gazprom."

Lukashenka said he will not allow Russia to deal with Belarus in such a way. "We will privatize [our national properties] in accordance with our legislation.... In history, our people have opposed much greater pressure [than now], [so] they will cope with this [pressure] too.... But I want the Russians and the Belarusians to know that there is no economics, there is only unprecedented pressure on our country.... Our economy is much smaller than that of Russia. But Belarus is inhabited by proud and independent people who will not allow anybody to kick us, from either the West or the East."

Lukashenka did not miss the opportunity to present his traditional arithmetic in which Belarus's debt to Gazprom is far outweighed by Russia's liabilities to Belarus -- the $175 million in tax breaks granted by Lukashenka to Gazprom during the construction of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, and the $500 million for what the Belarusian president called "unregulated relations on the collection of indirect taxes." Somewhat inconsistently, Lukashenka declared that Belarus can repay $200 million to Gazprom by taking money from 200,000 war veterans in Belarus "who were rotting together with Russians in trenches of World War II" and by curtailing investments in the construction of health centers for curing people affected by the Chornobyl disaster. This populist rhetoric, however, was sarcastically offset by some Russian and independent Belarusian media suggesting that the Belarusian president should look for spending cuts among the bloated police and secret-service forces rather than among octogenarian war veterans who live on paltry pensions.

Lukashenka also instructed his ministers to use energy resources sparingly and ordered them to cut gas supplies to those consumers who do not pay. "Belarusians will never be without heat, whatever relations we have with whomever. It will be warm and cozy in our homes and families during the winter, as in previous years," the Belarusian leader promised.

Since Gazprom is demanding not the repayment of Belarus's total gas debt but of some $30 million by the end of this year in order to resume full gas exports, Minsk will actually have no problems in complying with this demand and averting an energy crisis -- according to official reports, the Belarusian National Bank's foreign-currency reserves now exceed $200 million. However, Lukashenka's fiery anti-Kremlin and populist rhetoric last week clearly indicates that Minsk has already exhausted any reasonable arguments in support of its favorable way of doing business with Moscow, which was unofficially labeled by the phrase "Russian gas and oil for Belarusian kisses." By reducing the gas supplies to Belarus, the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin has persuasively confirmed that it prefers money to Lukashenka's endearments. (Jan Maksymiuk)


By Viktor Stepanenko

Two recent political events have revealed that there is a deep crisis within the present system of political power in Ukraine.

After many failed attempts by lawmakers to vote efficiently at a plenary meeting of the Verkhovna Rada on 24 October, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn publicly admitted that the pro-presidential parliamentary majority is politically incapable.

The next day, the latent governmental crisis took a new turn. Pro-Kuchma parliamentary groups proposed to the president four candidates for the post of prime minister: Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh (backed by the Medvedchuk-Surkis economic-political group), First Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna (allegedly supported by President Leonid Kuchma), State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov, and Donetsk Oblast Governor Viktor Yanukovych, who is supported by Donetsk economic and political clans.

Why do the pro-presidential parties intend to change the government? The official reason voiced by these parties is their attempt to form a coalition government that would take political responsibility for the country. But do the pro-presidential parties, which represent less than a quarter of Ukrainian voters, have a political and moral legitimacy to form a government? The present government already includes representatives of these pro-presidential political groups. Besides, no one can ensure that the next, would-be ninth, cabinet in independent Ukraine will be better or more responsible than the present one or all the previous ones.

Many observers believe, however, that the real explanation for the current political rush toward forming a new cabinet lies in the emerging context of presidential elections that will take place at the end of 2004. President Kuchma has recently confirmed this belief, accusing the political opposition of initiating the presidential race almost two years before it actually should begin.

The governing clans clearly understand that they have now to think seriously about how to secure their economic and political leverage in Ukraine in the future. During two years of the ongoing "Kuchmagate" scandal, their hopes to prolong the "comfortable" rule of President Kuchma for one more presidential term have been completely buried. This can be seen as one of the real successes of Ukraine's democratic opposition.

Ukraine's ruling clans face an enormous challenge in determining a successor to the presidency. The current quest for the post of prime minister, which is widely believed to be the best springboard for launching the presidential race, indicates that nothing has been decided in this regard. According to many observers, the absence of a real successor to the presidency among oligarchic groups and the fear that Viktor Yushchenko might become Ukraine's next president were the real motives behind Kuchma's declared intention to reform the system of power in Ukraine, aimed at diminishing the constitutional prerogatives of the head of state.

The deep crisis that has infected all the branches of power is a characteristic feature of Ukraine's current political situation. The governing elite cannot rule the country efficiently. However, new political leaders have not yet obtained sufficient support among the population in order to be able to replace the old ones. According to a recent analysis by Oleksandr Razumkov of the Center for Political and Economic Studies in "Zerkalo nedeli" on 26 October, the dominant part of the Ukrainian population is still a "silent majority" that is reluctant to participate in political activities, let alone political protests against the government. And public opinion in Ukraine, which mistrusts current political leaders in general and Kuchma in particular, has not yet turned into a significant factor influencing political decision making in the country.

Thus, there is a shaky balance of powers in Ukraine: "The rulers" cannot rule, and "the masses" do not want them to rule but are still unprepared to change the situation. Such a political deadlock is a characteristic of a revolutionary situation.

There are some signs of hope, though. This hope is connected with a recent decision by the Constitutional Court to recognize as constitutional a draft bill proposed by the opposition to introduce amendments to the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). The draft intends to increase the role of the parliament by giving it the right to form the Cabinet of Ministers and to appoint key state officials, including the prosecutor-general. The draft also provides for forming the parliamentary majority based on the results of parliamentary elections under a proportional-election system and for specifying rights of parliamentary opposition.

In fact, this draft, which was first proposed in February 2001, envisages some steps of the political reforms announced by the president in August 2002. The near future should show whether the Kuchma-proposed political reform, which is broadly advertised in state media, is only an empty declaration or a true intention of the head of state.

Viktor Stepanenko is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Sociology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and director of the Center for Public Policy Development.

"Pay 100 percent for current [Russian-gas] consumption. Pay the old [gas] debts [to Gazprom] within the next year. If Russia demands not $200 million but $300 million, pay them $300 million. They are poor today, they are in poverty.... And don't borrow from them any more, better ask for [money] from Arabs, from the West, from America. They will help us regardless of the relations we have with them. I categorically forbid you to negotiate loans with the Russian Federation." -- President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to his ministers on 6 November, instructing them on how to deal with a gas-supply crisis (see above); quoted by Belarusian Television.

"And the most important thing: Immediately work out other possible variants for supplying Belarus with alternate energy resources. We cannot suffer such dependence on, and humiliation by, the side of a single state." -- President Lukashenka on 6 November; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"We should be ready to pay world prices for energy resources, for gas. We will have to spend in addition only $150 million to $200 million. This is not money for our country. Our consolidated [annual] budget amounts to approximately $5 billion. Will there be any problem [with paying]?" -- President Lukashenka on 6 November; quoted by Belarusian Television.