Economic Havoc Heats Up Political Strife In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s political crisis today is a powder keg, and it is the ongoing economic havoc that has contributed most of the powder. The Opposition is planning massive protest actions, hoping half of the country’s population will take to the streets.

A metalworker at the Iron and Steel Factory in the Ukrainian industry city of Mariupol. Already rocked by the collapse of the Soviet Union's command economy, the global economic crisis means Ukraine's metals factories have been struck by a plunge in export orders that count for 80 percent of their production.

In the meantime, President Viktor Yushchenko’s strength is at a critical low, and politicians and experts speculate early parliamentary elections may be expected as early as this summer.

The people have long lost the last bits of illusion about the political forces they once wholeheartedly voted for. Ukrainian society feels an urgent need for the emergence of a new political force. In this connection analysts have pointed to the fast popularity climb of the former parliamentary speaker, Arseny Yatsenyuk, who, some suspect, may contest the presidency, and with success.

The oppositional Party of Regions has begun a national action in the Crimea in support of the demand for the resignation of the president and government. In Simferopol, the peninsula’s main city, Yanukovich on Thursday was holding a meeting of the shadow Cabinet.

A large crowd gathered in the central square of Simferopol. “Stop the Crisis, Bring the Authorities to Justice” was the watchword. The Crimean rally is seen as a prelude to much stronger actions of protest, due to be staged in Kiev as of March 27. On the same day Odessa and sixteen other Ukrainian cities, including those in the country’s West, will see protest demonstrations.

Nearly half of the Ukrainians (42.2 percent) are prepared to participate in authorized protest actions, and nearly one-fourth (23.8 percent) will dare demonstrate without permission, as follows from a March opinion poll by the Razumkov Center.

The Marketing and Consulting agency quotes the pollster’s experts as saying the Ukrainian people’s anger has grown considerably since December 2008.

Yanukovich believes that the surest way of leading Ukraine out of the political and economic crisis will be re-electing all bodies of power.

“Our main task is to find a means of how to oust the current authorities in the near future. We cannot tolerate this for another year. In one year’s time the country may be lying in ruins,” Yanukovich warned.

The leader of the Party of Regions declared the need for calling early presidential and parliamentary elections.

“Only after that there will emerge the possibility of political and economic stabilization in Ukraine,” he said. “I am certain that the Ukrainian people will manage to cope with this, and the Party of Regions will actively help them in this.”

Yanukovich recalled that the Party of Regions had waged a struggle against this ‘orange power’ in 2004 and in all the subsequent years.

“We did our utmost to ensure it should leave for good and vacate this country once and for all,” Yanukovich said.

The rally, which brought together some 5,000-6,000 residents of Simferopol, voted for a resolution demanding the resignation of the president and Cabinet of Ministers, for disbanding parliament and for initiating early elections. Street demonstrations, say the organizers, will be the first phase of a plan that may eventually lead to the declaration of early parliamentary elections.

Early elections may be called as soon as June 2009, deputy parliamentary speaker Nikolai Tomenko, of the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc, said.

The leader of the pan-Ukrainian association Liberty, Oleg Tyagnybok, made a similar statement to the daily Kommersant.

“There are three scenarios. Number one is early parliamentary elections are called first, and then the presidential one. That’s what Viktor Yushchenko wants. Number two is parliamentary and presidential elections are to be held simultaneously. That’s the Viktor Yanukovich-backed option. And number three is a freeze on any elections till 2015. That’s Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko’s wish,” Tyagnybok said.

The chief of the Democratic Initiatives research center, Ilko Kocheriv, doubts early parliamentary elections are likely, though.

“The authorities are perfectly aware that calling early elections amid the political and economic crisis would be tantamount to planting a mine under one’s own seat,” he told the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He acknowledged that the positions of the incumbent president are at a critical low.

The pressure on the Ukrainian political elite is so strong that several months before the official beginning of the election campaign Viktor Yushchenko’s opponents decided to initiate impeachment procedures. However, the sole political force that has backed this idea is the Party of Regions, on the condition, though, Timoshenko Cabinet steps down, which makes the whole affair as rather problematic.

Ukraine is to elect a new president at the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010.

In the meantime, none of Ukraine’s political forces enjoys a preferential position.

”What makes Ukraine’s recent history after 1991 so special is that we have not a single political force that would enjoy credibility with a majority of the population. The existing political system has discredited all of the current political forces,” the director of the Sociology Institute under the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Nikolai Shulga, said.

The Party of Regions, he said, has its own stable electorate at a level of about 29-33 percent. Viktor Yanukovich largely owes the support he enjoys to his confrontation with the ‘orange forces.’ Those who back him are unable to support other politicians by virtue of their cultural, linguistic and geo-political preferences. True, Yanukovich’s supporters have had their own reasons to be disappointed somewhat, but his opponents have created far more problems for themselves.

“Humiliation and distortion of history, speculations over the theme of famine of the 1930s, the surge of pro-Nazi sentiment and glorification of Nazi collaborators and henchmen, as well as attempts to set the Ukrainians and the Russian against each other, (this strife allegedly constitutes the backbone of history Russian-Ukrainian history), and the restoration of some tiny localities Russians had allegedly destroyed – all this has caused the people’s revulsion and disillusionment about Yushchenko.”

The electorate of Our Ukraine is in dismay, says the political scientist. It has turned its back on Yushchenko (and no new people are coming to join him). Also, a great share of voters feel disappointed over Timoshenko and the smaller parties – the Christian Democratic Party, the fragments of People’s Rukh, and the Yuri Kostenko Popular Party.

If parliamentary elections were to be held next Sunday, the Party of Regions would gain the upper hand, as follows from the results of an opinion poll the Agency of Social Studies conducted in March. The Party of Regions would get 19.2 percent of the votes, the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc, 15.4 percent, the Arseny Yatsenyuk Bloc, 6.9 percent, the Litvin Bloc, 5.2 percent, and the Communist Party of Ukraine, 3.4 percent. The movement For Ukraine under the former leader of the Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense faction, Vyacheslav Kirilenko, would have certain chances of getting into parliament, too. It would receive 3.2 percent of the votes of the polled. In the meantime, Viktor Yushchenko’s bloc Our Ukraine can count on a tiny 2.9 percent of the votes, and Oleg Tyagnybok’s Liberty, 2.3 percent.

As they consider the chances of likely contenders for the presidency, experts point to the quick rise of the former parliamentary speaker, leader of the Front of Change, Arseny Yatsenyuk. If one assumes he will manage to persuade the hesitant ones, and also those who have so far voted against all, the young politician’s emergence in the forefront of the election campaign will look quite probable.

According to a FOM-Ukraine opinion poll the Marketing and Consulting company is referring to, if the presidential election were to be held in the middle of February, the leader of the Party of Regions, Viktor Yanukovich, would have 20.4 percent of the votes, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, 17.5 percent, former parliamentary speaker Areseny Yatsenyuk, 10.1 percent, Communist Party leader Pyotr Simonenko, 4.7 percent, parliamentary speaker Vladimir Litvin, 3.7 percent, and President Viktor Yushchenko, 1.9 percent.

The farther down the road, the more interesting the picture gets. Should Yanukovich and Yatsenyuk qualify for the run-off, the former would get 30.2 percent of the votes, and the latter, 32.1 percent. In case of the Timoshenko-Yatsenyuk option the ration would be 20.4 percent to 31.5 respectively.