Ukraine Between the Elections (2002-04): Opportunities and Pitfalls Ahead
In a recent meeting at the Kennan Institute, Sergiy Komisarenko, President of the Ukrainian Institute for Peace and Democracy discussed recent developments in Ukrainian politics. According to Komisarenko, Ukraine still does not have an effective, stable political system. He explained that as evidenced by the results of the latest parliamentary election, opposition parties in Ukraine have very few legal rights and suffer from a lack of structure. Komisarenko discussed the leading candidates for the upcoming presidential election, and explained President Kuchma's attempts to introduce constitutional reforms that could influence the election.
Komisarenko attributed the instability of the Ukrainian political system, in part, to the country's ineffective economic policy. He posited that "an optimal and effective macroeconomic policy can only be realized under the conditions of a stable political system with proper leadership, principle market institutions that work properly, national self-esteem, and an open and public society." In Komisarenko's opinion, Ukraine's political system is ineffective because the language of the constitution severely limits the constructiveness, structure and legal rights of the political opposition. Komisarenko explained that following the 2002 parliamentary elections, many of the opposition parties encountered difficulties during and after the elections. He noted that the "so-called opposition" or the Our Ukraine faction in the parliament is composed of nearly fifty different political parties. Keeping this mixed coalition together has proven to be a difficult task for party leader and leading presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.
According to Komisarenko, the instability of the Ukraine political system makes it nearly impossible to predict who will be the next president of Ukraine. He listed approximately ten different people who could possibly win the upcoming election, but also warned that there are no guarantees that any of them would make it that far. He noted that Yushchenko remains the most popular person in Ukraine, but many citizens have voiced their concerns about his ability to govern effectively.
Komisarenko stated that there is still a chance that the current Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, may attempt to lengthen his presidential term. Komisarenko explained that according to the Ukrainian constitution, Kuchma must step down because he has served two terms. However, Kuchma has suggested several constitutional reforms to the parliament and the possibility still exists that he will try to extend his term or go onto a third term. According to Komisarenko, President Kuchma's original plan was to find a candidate who could guarantee him security and immunity (similar to the Russian case of Yeltsin and Putin). Because no suitable candidate was found, Komisarenko continued, it appears that Kuchma has decided to constitutional reform as his next strategy. Komisarenko warned that among the many reforms proposed by Kuchma, his suggestion of making national referendum an instrument of legislation would be "disastrous for the development of democracy in Ukraine."
Komisarenko posited that another possible candidate might be former president, Leonid Kravchuk, who could be president for a third term because the constitution only stipulates that the president cannot serve for more than two consecutive terms. Komisarenko noted that Mr. Kravchuk is not very popular in eastern Ukraine, but "under the current circumstances where there is no clear candidate for the presidency, he can be such a candidate."
Komisarenko concluded by saying that while the immediate outlook does not looks positive for Ukrainian democracy, he hopes that the country can build upon its economic, agricultural and intellectual potential and introduce balance and stability into its political system.