Deja Vu For Ukraine Voters, Who Face Fourth National Election In 3 Years

KIEV, Ukraine -- In some countries, the joke here goes, the national spectator sport is soccer or tennis. In Ukraine it is elections.

Ballots from one of the last Ukraine elections. The September 30 election ballot will be about one meter (3.3 feet) long.

Ballot-weary Ukrainians trudge to voting booths yet again next month, this time to vote for parliamentary candidates, the nation's fourth national ballot in less than three years.

But judging by the polls, the vote may do little to resolve the nation's seemingly permanent political crisis.

All that is new, perhaps, is that candidates are focusing on everyday issues — poverty, corruption, and potholes — rather than in previous elections, where the main issues were culture wars over whether Ukraine should strengthen historic ties to Russia or build new ones with the West.

The Western-leaning president Viktor Yushchenko called for the Sept. 30 early election, hoping to end a marathon power struggle with his archrival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, seen as more sympathetic to Russia.

But the vote seems unlikely to shift the balance of power and resolve the key issue of who is in charge in this former Soviet republic of 47 million people.

"These elections are an extension of the battle for power between the president and the prime minister and the various groups they represent," said Ivan Lozowy, president of the Kiev-based Institute of Statehood and Democracy. "I don't see these elections settling the disputes for the simple reason that the results won't be terribly different from what they were a year and a half ago."

The coalition government consists of Yanukovych's big business party, the communists and the socialists.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and leader of the opposition, has compared it to a male rabbit trying to mate with a male squirrel in hopes of having a baby.

Polls suggest all three major parties could win about the same number of seats as in March 2006. If so, the main question will be what a new coalition government might look like.

The Party of Regions, led by Yanukovych, seems poised to repeat its 2006 victory.

Then, the prime minister staged a remarkable comeback after his defeat in the 2004, when he saw the mass protests of the Orange Revolution overturn his earlier disputed election victory.

The bloc chaired by Tymoshenko, an important leader of the Orange Revolution, is expected to finish second.

Polls predict the Yushchenko bloc, Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense, will finish third.

If Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's parties try to form a government, their coalition seems likely to be riven by the same disputes that caused Yushchenko to accuse Tymoshenko of corruption and incompetence and fire her as prime Minster in 2005.

A cabinet made up of Prime Minister Yanukovych's and Yushchenko's supporters, meanwhile, could erupt into the same tug of war between the two leaders that led to this early vote in the first place.

If minor parties win few seats in the new parliament, Yanukovych could win a majority in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada.

But even that would be unlikely to resolve the deadlock, since President Yushchenko could still thwart Yanukovych through presidential decrees and his right to appoint several key ministers and regional leaders.

During the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians were obsessed with the political drama being played out on the streets of Kiev.

Today, many are disillusioned with politics.

Many say they would prefer that their leaders settle their differences and start to try solving some of the country's problems.

Despite a booming economy — seven percent growth is forecast for this year — many Ukrainians are struggling to make ends meet.

The average monthly wage of $258 (€190) is four times lower than in neighboring Poland and up to 10 times lower than in western European countries.

Corruption is endemic.

Traffic police often take bribes instead of issuing tickets.

Members of parliament and senior judges have been accused of selling their votes on key bills and cases.

Meanwhile, the country's highways, railroads and gas pipelines are decrepit, leading to frequent pipeline explosions and train derailments.

Hospital buildings, treasured churches and museums are crumbling.

In previous campaigns, voters split mainly over Ukraine's foreign policy — should it look to the West or Russia?

This time, the candidates are focusing on bread-and-butter issues.

All three parties are offering to raise child support payments to reverse the country's population decline.

This has turned into a virtual auction for votes.

President Yushchenko's party has come out with the highest offer of 12,000 hryvna ($2380 or $1760) for the family's first child.

But Yanukovych has offered more for the second.

With so many politicians making similar promises, voters are, naturally, confused — and uninspired.

"I don't believe anyone; all they do is lie," said Stanyslav Oryshchenko, 19, a management student in Kiev who is undecided whether he will vote at all. "All they care about is stealing as much money as possible for themselves. What happens to ordinary people doesn't interest them."

Mikhail Mishchenko, a sociologist with the Razumkov Center, said that although many voters sound disillusioned, the turnout next month is expected to be large.

A June poll based on answers of 10,956 respondents with a margin of error of 1 percentage point found that 62 percent of voters said they would cast ballots — yet again.

But there are signs of eroding interest in politics.

In March 2006, about 70 percent of voters turned out. In 2004, the turnout was 77 percent.

Those voters who do go to the polls will do so with lowered expectations.

"A significant part of society has become disillusioned with politics," Mishchenko said. "The choice won't be about which political force will best solve my problems, but it will be based on the fact that another political force will be even worse."

Source: International Herald Tribune


wesley rodgers said…
..For sure this years election is DESTINY for the Ukraine as now
people of Ukraine know that after the past several elections not much has been accomplished!!

..Politicians must put aside all
differences and finally TAKE CARE of UKRAINE people and consider several major agendas!1..As I have stated before the Ukraine should make strong ties with the European Union and the west because that is where their greatest support has been and will continue to come from!!
....The Ukraine can still keep ties with Russia BUT on the Ukraine's terms and NOT Russia's as
Russia at the end of the day looks out for itself and right now does not have the greatest relations with many European countries--Something the Ukraine needs!

..SECOND...Soon Russians will be voting for a NEW president there and that means changes in Russian diplomacy and economic profile and Russia also needs the E.U. even if it may not admit it!!
...THIRD..Here in the U.S...Next year we will have a major election and YES George Bush and Dick Cheney can't run again and this means at the very least better and more thorough diplomacy with European countries. and more direct involvement with the European community since before George Bush took matter who U.S voters vote for!
..This is a golden opportunity for Ukraine voters to look both ways and take advantage of a timely situation!!..Both with the Easy and West!

...Sergei Ivanov whom I had the opportunity to interview here in the U.S will probably maintain some of the same programs but if elected ,as his term moves on he will make changes as they will be definitely needed to keep order in Russia and Vladimar Putin--who knowes--maybe he will go back and work again for the FSB.!1..But he definitely will be in the background and play some role in Russian diplomacy and business links with other cpountries!
...As for NATO...It is good for Europe and the Ukraine and even Russia maintains some kind of a dialogue and relationship as NATO has reformed due to the worldwide threat of terrorism rather than dictators!
..I should be back in the Ukraine to cover elections and post election impact and in Russia....
..But with chnages in the East and West Ukrainians must remember who they will be dealing with and on what terms in just a year or so...
..This election is critical for the Ukraine and the entire E3uropean region!!..Ukraine voters must think both internally and externally and who the new leaders are they will have to be dealing with ...LONG LIVE THE UKRAINE...Sincerely as Always..Wes Rodgers PATRIOTS TV e mail