October 1, 2007

An Orange Rebound?

The Ukrainian elections held this weekend may have returned momentum to the pro-Western parties that fueled the Orange Revolution two years ago. The slow count in the pro-Russian east of Ukraine could still dent that momentum, and already accusations of cheating have arisen from perhaps the most famous -- and fiery -- of Ukrainian politicians:

Ukraine's pro-Western opposition claimed victory on Monday in an election widely seen as key to ending divisions that have stalled market reform and exacerbated tensions between a nationalist west and Russian-speaking east.

With just over 60 percent of votes in Sunday's parliamentary poll counted, groups linked to President Viktor Yushchenko, swept to power in 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests, appeared strongly placed but far from certain victory. A close result would again mean long talks on forming a coalition government.

Yushchenko's rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, dismissed the "orange" declaration of victory as groundless. He said his party would be declared the winner when votes from the industrial, pro-Russian eastern region were counted. ...

But officials said the count was proceeding slowly in eastern Ukraine, where Yanukovich's party traditionally scores well. A top Tymoshenko ally said the prime minister's team was conspiring to cheat in its eastern strongholds.

"We will challenge the results in areas where there will be an attempt at vote-rigging," Oleksander Turchinov told reporters.

Accusations of cheating and vote-rigging triggered the original Orange Revolution. Leonid Kuchma's attempt to ensure Viktor Yanukovich's succession backfired, as Ukrainians took to the streets in peaceful and powerful protest. Viktor Yushchenko seized the opportunity to ride that wave to the presidency in an election do-over, and he partnered with Yulia Tymoshenko to reform Ukranian government -- at least at first.

After a short period, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko could not effectively share power, and that led to a comeback for Yanukovich and his pro-Russian, eastern-based politics. Yushchenko had to share power with his one-time rival, and Tymoshenko became the focus of reform efforts. The political situation has remained muddied ever since, and this election was supposed to clarify the direction of Ukraine.

It may make it even more muddied. While the Orange forces have done well so far, so has a surprising bid from a centrist party. Former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has apparently led his bloc past the 3% threshold to gain seats in the parliament. That could complicate efforts to form a government for any of the major parties, and Lytvyn may find himself in the role of kingmaker.

The situation bears a close watch. As Ukraine goes, so may go Belarus and the central Asian republics formerly of the Soviet Union.


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Comments (1)

Posted by howard lohmuller | October 1, 2007 8:47 AM

It would be wise,I think, to be quite pessimistic about the future for Ukraine, Belarus and other former client states of the Soviet Union in Central Asia. The citizenry of Russia appear to want a return to authoritarianism characteristic of the U.S.S.R. but without its cental planning and government ownership of everything. The Russian experience with autocratic rule reaches back hundreds of years and may be part of the Russian psyche. Such a strong desire by 140 million Russians will have inertia and invite interference with the affairs of the smaller Asian states.
The best assurance for maintaining Democracy in these smaller Republics will rest with NATO and future trade relationships with the U.S. For those who believe Communism has had its day and isn't coming back, remember that there are even many Americans, like the aging actor Edward Asner, whom believe and have stated publicly that Communism never really had a fair chance at succeeding.

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