Ukraine gears up for presidential campaign, as field of potential candidates emerges
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - A year before presidential elections, Ukrainian society is gearing up for the candidates and campaigns that will dominate politics and the media for the next 12 months. The candidate field is slowly emerging also with Viktor Yushchenko of Our Ukraine retaining a steady lead in most current surveys.
While the country's Central Election Committee awaits the appointment of new members, the Verkhovna Rada continues to consider a new law on elections. Meanwhile a coalition of eight Ukrainian civic organizations ranging from social survey organizations to a not-for-profit media outlet, dubbed New Choice, announced on October 31 that it would monitor the 2004 campaign and the election to assure a deliberate decision for voters, free of undue political pressure and falsification.
Representatives from the European Union, NATO and the United States have repeatedly stated that the manner in which the presidential elections - slated for October 31, 2004 - are held will heavily influence Ukraine's movement toward and into Euro-Atlantic structures.
During a roundtable on November 3 on preparations for the presidential elections, representatives of local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including members of the New Choice coalition, noted that Ukraine needs to fine tune its laws in order to ensure open, free and fair elections.
Repeating an oft-uttered phrase, Ralf Vaksmut, director of the Ukrainian office of the Konrad Adenauer Fund said, "only a democratically elected president would be acknowledged in the West."
He then noted that, "The law on presidential elections from 1999 has so many holes that I could call into question the legality of a vote based on it."
Ihor Kohut, president of the Agency for Legislative Initiatives, a participant in the New Choice coalition, agreed that the Verkhovna Rada must pass a better law on presidential elections. He also cited the importance of direct elections of the president, as opposed to parliamentary election, which President Leonid Kuchma has supported.
Mr. Kohut demanded also that the system of nominating members to the CEC become more transparent and formalized so that society was who is directing and monitoring the development of the elections for the government.
Mr. Kohut announced that the New Choice coalition had sent a letter to President Kuchma on November 4 demanding he appoint a member of the NGO sector to one of the current five vacant positions on the CEC. He announced that the New Choice coalition had proposed a representative of the Committee of Ukrainian Voters, an organization that has established a high degree of credibility in international circles for the quality of its electoral monitoring work in the past.
Denys Kovryzhenko, an analyst for the Agency of Legislative Initiatives, said that, more importantly, in 2004 the CEC must have control over how its local structures are formed and needs to utilize money exclusively from the central state budget to avoid the huge and disparaging influence of administrative resources on the local and regional levels. He also said that fairness of the system could be better assured if the CEC were to consist of chosen representatives of the major parties and not cronies of the president, the government or the Parliament.
Maryna Stavniichuk, a member of the CEC, explained that in her experience there are four areas that need particular attention, with sources of financing topping the list. She also said that a new law on presidential campaigns must include specific regulations on the campaign process, the appointment of local election officials, and the manner in which votes are counted and registered. She underscored that voter registration lists need to be cleaned and better scrutinized as well.
Ms. Stavniichuk suggested that it was time Ukraine assured a party system and the pre-eminence of political parties in the election process.
"Today all the candidates for president will be from one or another party," explained Ms. Stavniichuk. "I believe that we can now utilize the European experience in developing an appropriate legal basis for our own system."
According to two major surveys completed in October, 12 months prior to the elections all the major unannounced candidates indeed belong to some political organization, with Viktor Yushchenko of the Our Ukraine bloc continuing to lead the pack. Studies by Democratic Initiatives/TNS Ukraina, as well as the Center for Social Monitoring/Ukrainian Institute for Social Research, show him at around 21 percent to 23 percent in voter support. Mr. Yushchenko has retained a popularity rating in the lower and mid-20s for almost three years now and most political scientists consider that percentage range as his base of support.
Mr. Yushchenko is followed by Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko. Mr. Symonenko, who unsuccessfully faced President Kuchma in an election run-off in 1999, received support from 12 to 15 percent of those polled, down somewhat from steady numbers in the high teens several years ago.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych of the Regions of Ukraine Party, on the other hand, has seen a dynamic rise in his presidential fortunes as people have come to know the name. At the end of October, around 9 percent of Ukrainians sampled in the two polls said they could support him for president.
Other names most frequently mentioned and their support in polls are as follows: National Deputy Yulia Tymoshenko (Batkivschyna Party and Tymoshenko Bloc); 4.3-6 percent; National Deputy Oleksander Moroz (Socialist Party): 4.5-5 percent; Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration Viktor Medvedchuk (Social Democratic Party United), 2.6-4 percent; National Bank of Ukraine Chairman Serhii Tyhypko (Labor Party), 1.8-2 percent; Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Volodymyr Lytvyn (For A United Ukraine Bloc), 1-2 percent.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, November 9, 2003, No. 45, Vol. LXXI
| Home Page |