Elections to the Verkhovnaya Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) last week have left workers with little to celebrate. Six parties (The Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the United Social Democratic Party, the United Ukraine block, the Our Ukraine block and the Timoshenko block) managed to gain more than the 4% needed to gain deputies on the proportional lists but despite their titles, none of them represents workers’ interests.
‘Our Ukraine’ plays down national question
Our Ukraine came first in the party list, with 23.5% of the vote. This party, led by former Premier Yushenko, came to prominence during the street protests of a year ago. It has a pro-Western, pro-NATO neo-liberal programme. Although Yushenko has been depicted as the main figure in opposition to corruption in the government, he only moved into opposition when the Western business interests he has allied himself with started to lose out to Russian capital during Ukraine’s privatisation process. The party consciously avoided playing the nationalist card against Russian interests in an attempt to build support in the Russian speaking East. Nevertheless, Our Ukraine gained ten times more votes in the western regions than in the east. Yulia Timoshenko, a former colleague of Yushenko’s and wife of one of Ukraine’s big businessmen (read mafia), headed her own block, which gained 7%.
That the national question was played down is partly because of the peculiar economic position the Ukraine finds itself in. Its economy is growing mainly because the oil boom in neighbouring Russia is allowing Russian business to buy from and invest in Ukrainian industry.
Communist Party vote falls
The Communist Party came second with 20% of the vote. However due to the electoral system where half of the deputies are elected by proportional representation and half in first past the post constituencies, the number of Communist deputies has fallen from 113 to 66 places, as it succeeded in gaining only 7 constituencies. It gained on average of 35% in the Russian speaking East and only 4% in the West reflecting its image as a party defending Russian interests. The dramatic collapse in its vote is a reflection of discontent with its lack of opposition to the government, in particular to privatisation. Most spectacularly in the local elections, which took place on the same day, it lost control in many of the big industrial cities. In the mining city of Donetsk, for example, having had overwhelming control, the CP has been left with only 7 out of 100 deputies. In the Crimea, the number of CP deputies has fallen from 50 to 11.
Progressive Socialist Party ditches radicalism
Unfortunately there was no real alternative to the left of the CP, which could have picked up on this discontent. The Progressive Socialist Party, which gained a respectable 11% in the last Presidential elections, has lost all of its seats in the Parliament, gaining only 3.2% of the popular vote this time. In the last two years, it has ditched most of the radical aspects of its previous programme. It has made links with Kiev businessmen and rejected its earlier internationalist position, making the key part of its electoral programme the creation of a Union between Russia, the Ukraine and Belorussia. Another recently formed "far left" party, the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union, performed dismally, getting only fractions of a percent of the vote. This party used ultra-radical sounding phrases but was financed by one of the big industrial clans as an attempt to undercut the CP’s vote.
Ruling elite manipulations
This cynical manipulation of the electorate by the ruling elite was seen throughout the country. In the city of Zaporizha, the director of the steel works, which is notorious for pumping pollutants into the atmosphere, headed the Green Party’s list of candidates. He also set up a second party called the Women of Ukraine, made up of the wives of the factory’s directors. He then instructed the workers at his plant how to vote – one-third for the greens, one third for the Women of Ukraine and the remainder for the government’s block.
The Socialist Party, which developed out of the old CPSU after the collapse of the Soviet Union, fought these elections on an openly bourgeois programme. Having fought alongside Yushenko in the "Ukraine without Kuchma" campaign, the party has ditched any of its former left rhetoric, and now presents itself as a "Centralist" party. It won 6.8% of the vote and its leader Moroz has made no bones about his willingness to join a coalition government headed by Yushenko. This is not surprising, for the past two years, Moroz has been travelling the world making friends under the auspices of the Second International [the international grouping of parties like New Labour in Britain and the SPD in Germany]. His biggest allies are now to be found in the US Republican Party.
The United Social Democratic Party has never even claimed to be socialist. It was set up by one of the big business clans as a lobbying force. It did however use a surprising tactic in its party political broadcasts. They all started with video footage of Britain’s huge anti poll tax demonstrations, with the voice-over commenting that in Britain the "people had risen up against Thatcher" and forced her out, opening the way to a social democratic government (obviously suggesting the people of the Ukraine should follow their example).
But all the above parties are to some degree in opposition to President Kuchma and between them gained 70% of the vote. Kuchma’s "For a United Ukraine" block gained just 11.8% of the popular vote but over 25% of the seats in the Parliament, becoming the biggest fraction. It remains to be seen whether Kuchma can twist the arms of enough deputies elected as independents or from the other blocks to gain a majority in the Parliament so that he can maintain some stability in the run up to the Presidential election.
Undemocratic election campaign
The fact that these elections have taken place does not mean that they were particularly democratic. Western poll observers comment that there were technical discrepancies in the way the voting was organised. But of course, the election campaign that precedes the voting is what really determines the outcome, and this was far from democratic. The mass media was dominated by pro Kuchma propaganda and opposition candidates found in their way many barriers to registration. More sinister is the habit opponents of the regime have for dying in car accidents or simply getting shot. A leader of the United Social Democrats was murdered on the eve of poll. Timoshenko, the head of the block representing Ukrinian big business, was injured in a car accident – she was lucky to survive, ten other leading politicians and businessmen who have spoken against the ruling elite have died in ‘accidents’ in the last couple of years.
CWI results show possibilities for socialist ideas
The Ukrainian section of the CWI played an active role in these elections. It has explained that none of the present parties represent the Ukrainian working class – one of the biggest in Europe. The CWI is therefore arguing that a genuine workers’ party is required. At the same time, several comrades stood for different positions and received very respectable results. Andrei Kazakhov was elected to the City Council in Dneproderzhinsk. In Kiev, Sergei Denisyuk came second with 690 votes for a place on the Regional Council. CWI observers at the count were prevented from witnessing the opening of some ballot boxes and they are convinced the vote was rigged in favour of the eventual winner, a businessman who stood to gain immunity from prosecution. Although other comrades were nominated in Kiev, the decision was taken to concentrate on Sergei’s campaign. Oleg Vernik was nominated for the Verkhovnaya Rada, and despite only speaking once on TV, he came 12 th out of 25 candidates, with 1700 votes. These results show the clear possibilities that exist for genuine socialist ideas in the Ukraine today.
An edited version of this article first appeared in The Socialist, Issue 250, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI section in England and Wales ).