New Elections For Old Contenders
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.
U.S. Official Stresses 'Principles' In Transdniester TalksAugust 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- During a recent visit to Chisinau, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer discussed the current state of negotations on the conflict in Transdniester with RFE/RL Romania-Moldova Service correspondent Vasile Botnaru.
RFE/RL: We understand from statements by the Moldovan government and press that you have again appealed for the "five-plus-two" format for talks on Transdniester to be relaunched; that you said the Russian troops must be pulled out of Transdniester; and that you discussed the replacement of the UN "blue helmets" there with other peacekeepers. If such messages are repeatedly not taken into account, might not one think the messenger, David Kramer, is in a sort of embarrassing situation, because nobody listens to him, nobody hears him?
David Kramer: The positions that you just described about the resumption of "five-plus-two,"
withdrawal of Russian forces, internationalizing the peacekeeping force, are all important principles of U.S. policy and I think are worth repeating on a regular basis. In fact, I would worry about the opposite -- if we stopped talking about those things that people would misread into that, that we were no longer standing by those principles. And I would add to that list a solution to Transdniestria that respects Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the promotion of democratic and [economic] reform throughout the entire region.
And we are also accompanying our rhetoric, our principles, with action by trying to engage more with the population in Transdniestria. Because our problem has never been with the people who live in the Transdniestrian part of Moldova. In fact, the United States is a friend of the people who live there. And Ambassador [to Moldova Michael] Kirby and the entire U.S. Embassy here in Chisinau is representing the United States for all of Moldova. So I think even though there has not been a resumption of "five-plus-two" since February of 2006, it is imperative that we continue to speak out on principles, and it is also important that we back up those principles with actions that we can take and that we can control.
RFE/RL: Did the freezing of Russian participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty complicate the dialogue with Moscow on the resolution of the Transdniester issue?
Kramer: The Russians announced their intention to suspend, and that suspension, if nothing changes, will happen on December 12. We had a meeting with Russian officials in Washington on Tuesday [July 31] in which I participated and we stressed to them our hope that Russia would remain within the treaty. We also reaffirmed our commitment to ratify the adapted CFE Treaty, but we were also clear that ratification by the United States and other NATO allies could only come in parallel with Russia’s fulfillment of commitments made in Istanbul in 1999. We reiterated in the meeting on Tuesday our willingness to be creative in helping Russia meet those commitments, including through an idea we have already discussed, internationalizing the peacekeeping force.
We do think that positive movement on fulfillment of Istanbul would also facilitate a solution to the Transdniestria problem. And we think these issues are very closely interconnected. So I think it is in everyone's interest to do what we can to keep Russia in compliance with the treaty. To fulfill the commitments made in 1999, which, by the way, include not only removal of Russian forces from Moldova, but the removal of munitions from Kolbasna. And I think if we can get movement on both of those issues, we will also see movement on a solution to the problem of Transdniestria. I think it's too early to say whether our task is more difficult than it has been before. It wasn't easy before, but I think the United States, together with our allies, and together with Moldova, can rise to this challenge. And we hope to work in a cooperative spirit with our Russian colleagues on this issue.
RFE/RL: Are the Russians more willing to discuss a possible international peacekeeping force?
Kramer: I think it's probably at this point premature to describe the Russian position, we are still in the middle of discussions with them on this issue. But let me say that when we raised this issue on Tuesday [July 31] in Washington, in our discussions with the Russians, it was not the first time they heard this idea from us. There has not been the movement so far that we would like to see, but we by no means have reached the end of this process.
Romanian Foreign Minister Says Moldova Not 'Younger Brother'Since Romania joined the European Union on January 1 and imposed visa requirments on Moldovans, huge queues have formed outside Romania's consulate in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. The consulate says it can deal with a maximum of 300 visa applications each day, but the number of applicants is much higher. The Moldovan government agreed in January to allow Romania to open two new consulates in the country, but then reversed its decision. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin accused Romania last week of "forcing" Moldovans to get Romanian citizenship, in order to be able to travel to the EU. Moldova was part of Romania from 1918 to 1940 and the two countries share an ethnic and linguistic background. Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu spoke to RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service about relations between Bucharest and Chisinau.
RFE/RL: What stage are the negotiations at concerning the opening of new Romanian consular sections in Moldova?
Adrian Cioroianu: My message concerning the consulates in the cities of Cahul and Balti, in my letter to [Moldovan Foreign Minister] Andrei Stratan, was that the trouble on this issue remains, still, in Chisinau. We have demanded that one single consular section in Chisinau do its job well. Even though it is the largest in our network [of consulates], it is clearly overwhelmed by the number of applications. At the same time, I believe that it is better for Moldovan citizens to be served at two additional sections, where visas are issued only. The visa issue is the main subject of interest for Moldovan citizens, the most important subject. The citizenship issue is clearly dominated by the visa problem to a great extent, as we know.
RFE/RL: In the letter to your Moldovan counterpart Andrei Stratan, you explain that the two consular sections in Cahul and Balti, if they open, would deal exclusively with visas, not citizenship. On the other hand, the authorities in Chisinau are concerned, as you know, about the fact that the Romanian government could speed up the citizenship process for the residents of Moldova. They are concerned in particular about legislation that is being drafted in Bucharest. At what point has work on this law reached by now: has the process stopped, or is debate still continuing on this subject?
Cioroianu: I think you should better enquire with the authorities working on this legislation, the Justice Ministry. I do not have any judicial expertise and I would not give you information about this topic. Certainly, it does concern us, and it is obvious that the mutual fears you just talked about can be relieved through dialogue. May I repeat: from our point of view, citizenship is not the main wish of those who come to our consulate in Chisinau. Most come for visas.
RFE/RL: The European Union representative in Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, has recently said in Bucharest that Romania often treats Moldova as a younger brother. What would you say about that?
Cioroianu: Obviously, some of Mizsei's statements are close to reality, others are not. I am not happy, or convinced about Mizsei's plea about civil society in Transdneister. In my opinion, things are different. It was just his statement. As for the behavior of Romania, no matter what one can feel -- and perhaps certain Romanian functionaries or officials have made that impression -- our intention at this moment is to deny it, in the sense that we have to focus on painting a realistic picture of relations between two countries talking seriously and responsibly about matters of joint interest. This is not a "big brother-small brother" issue, it is about responsible results, which both sides have to discuss, to communicate quickly...concerning any problems of common or bilateral interest.
RFE/RL: Beyond the visa and citizenship issues, Chisinau-Bucharest ties seem to be frozen at present. What should happen in concrete terms in order to improve these ties?
Cioroianu: From my point of view, the picture is not as dark as it seems. Let me remind you of the recent visit of the Romanian prime minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, to Chisinau. The discussions there were quite successful. It is true that they focused on issues of economic cooperation. I think that both sides are able to walk forward in political and neighborhood issues as well, should they demonstrate the same kind of openness.