Bandits To Prison Turning Into Bandits To Parliament

KIEV, Ukraine -- Following the Parliament of Ukraine's no confidence vote against the government of President Viktor Yushchenko, it is still unclear who will be emerge as frontrunner in coming elections-Yushchenko, or the Orange (Yulia Tymoshenko) and Blue (Viktor Yanukovych) opposition.

Who will be the winner in 2006? - Yushchenko (L), Tymoshenko (C) or Yanukovych (R)

The ratings of Regions of Ukraine had already been steadily rising since the Orange camp imploded in early September.

Central to this issue is whether the new January 4 gas contract with Russia was a "victory" or a "defeat" for Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders had been expecting a gas price rise from the 2003 agreed price of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters to $110-120, the price charged to other post-Soviet states, excluding Belarus. The final agreed price was $95 for 6 months. The price after that cannot be changed unilaterally by either side.

Most of the critical focus has been on the intermediary Rosukrenergo that Russia insisted should be involved. Rosukrenergo, replacing Eural-Trans Gas, was created in July 2004 by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Leonid Kuchma.

A parliamentary vote on January 13 was supported by 280 deputies to investigate Rosukrenergo, its investors and if the organized crime leader Semyon Mogilevich was involved. The vote was supported by the former Kuchma camp, Tymoshenko bloc and the Communists.

It is supremely ironic that the investigation was supported by former Kuchma factions who backed the creation of the non-transparent Rosukrenergo in 2004. The anonymous Ukrainian businessmen who control half of Rosukrenergo were appointed at that time and therefore are also from the former Kuchma camp.

It is also ironic that the Tymoshenko bloc has criticized the use of an intermediary. As Prime Minister she lobbied for Rosukrenergo to be replaced by her favorite intermediary Itera, which had been edged out by Eural Trans Gas in 2003.

The Ukrainian businessmen have adopted a practice of investors remaining anonymous by using banks or legal firms as a cover. Evidence proving this is a criminal or corrupt relationship is unavailable.

Both Regions of Ukraine and the Tymoshenko bloc, according to the Russian political consultant Stanislav Belkovskiy, hoped that the gas conflict would drag on without a new contract until the March 26 elections. Tymoshenko and Yanukovych therefore sought to gain favors in Moscow by prolonging the gas conflict to harm Yushchenko's election chances.

In the end, both Putin and Yushchenko needed a quick solution to the crisis. Putin had turned Western governments and media wholeheartedly against Russia on January 2- 3, and the continuing conflict for Yushchenko was causing serious political harm.

Fending off this challenge in the short term, Yushchenko has to deal with a more difficult issue of the upcoming elections. His threats to hold a constitutional referendum are a product of failing to carry through his rallying cry in the 2004 elections and Orange Revolution of "Bandits to Prison!" The only "bandits" to have suffered this fate have been lower and middle level officials. As in the Kuchma era, senior officials have again escaped justice.

In this regard, Yushchenko's choice of Roman Zvarych as Justice Minister and the maintenance of Kuchma era left-over Sviatoslav Piskun as Prosecutor until September-October 2005 caused considerable political blowback. Not a single high ranking "bandit" that Yushchenko pointed to in the Orange Revolution has been criminally charged.

Instead of "prison," these "bandits" will be running on the Regions of Ukraine list and thereby obtain immunity for the duration of the five-year 2006-2011 parliament. Piskun is on the Regions of Ukraine list, as are a multitude of ancient regime high-ranking officials who escaped charges.

Whereas Tymoshenko is likely to lose votes because of her activity in the energy crisis, this will not harm Regions of Ukraine. Recent polls suggest Regions of Ukraine is set to have the largest faction in the 2006 parliament.

Yanukovych is promoting Ukraine's wealthiest oligarch, Renat Akhmetov, who is standing on the Regions of Ukraine list, for Prime Minister and President. In Kyiv, 30% of the population regard Akhmetov as a "criminal authority of the Donetsk mafia." Similar numbers see him as an "oligarch" and the "political boss of Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions".

Regions of Ukraine's favorability ratings have steadily risen, especially since the September 2005 government crisis and split in the Orange camp. A new poll gave Regions of Ukraine 31%, an increase of over 10% in the last four months. Other polls give Regions of Ukraine closer to 23% or even higher ratings of 34%.

In the most recent poll the two halves of the Orange camp (Peoples Union-Our Ukraine [NS-NU] and Tymoshenko bloc) have a total of 29.2%. Together with the Socialists, the combined Orange camp could rise to 34%, only three percent higher than Regions of Ukraine.

Yushchenko remains optimistic that these polls will not translate into an election defeat. Speaking to the Financial Times, Yushchenko said NS-NU will obtain the largest seats in the 2006 parliament.

Based on current polls, this seems unlikely. The poll cited by UNIAN gave Regions of Ukraine 31% and NS-NU only 13%. KIIS gave Regions of Ukraine 34%, Tymoshenko 21% and NS-NU 18% (or 39%).

The Tymoshenko bloc has called for the signing of a three-way joint election alliance between NS-NU and the Socialists. Such an alliance could lay the foundation for a parliamentary coalition that would re-unite the Orange camp after the elections.

The stumbling block will be who would become Prime Minister. NS-NU and the Tymoshenko bloc have informally agreed that the winning faction will have the right to nominate the prime minister. In many polls, the Tymoshenko bloc comes ahead of NS-NU.

President Yushchenko has stated on a number of occasions that there will be no "revenge" from supporters of the former Kuchma regime. "Talk of any kind of revenge is not on. Yesterday's forces will remain yesterday's".

Yushchenko, very surprisingly, also refuses to acknowledge that there is public disappointment in his policies. A new survey by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems says otherwise. One of the public's major sources of discontent is his weak efforts to confront high-level corruption.

Although Yushchenko has emerged the main winner from the gas crisis, he has to take the blame for his election slogan of "Bandits to Prison!" turning into "Bandits to parliament," in which Regions of Ukraine may reside as the largest seat-holders.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

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