COMMENT: Ukraine PM shows once again she is her own worst enemy

By bne IntelliNews March 26, 2009

The Ukraine Insider -

More evidence from the March 16 regional council elections in Ternopil, western Ukraine of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's propensity to take two steps forward, one step back.

Tymoshenko has, once again, proved to be her own worst enemy. At first, her coalition, Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT), voted as a single entity on December 18 for new elections in Ternopil. But as the BYuT's poll ratings have fallen, Tymoshenko scrambled for control. She organized a parliamentary vote on March 3 to cancel the elections. Then BYuT tried to stop the elections through the courts. Finally, the Tymoshenko crowd decided they would "not participate" in the elections.

The Ternopil elections went ahead anyway and the results could hardly have been worse for BYuT. The elections were originally called to solve irreconcilable differences between local branches of BYuT and Our Ukraine party, which backs President Viktor Yushchenko. Now these differences have been resolved because of BYuT's fumbling. The right-wing Svoboda party increased its popularity and came in first place with 35% of the vote. A month before the elections, Svoboda's rating was 22%, with 18% for BYuT and 6% for Our Ukraine. This time, BYuT got a measly 8% and came in a disappointing fifth place. Given that presidential elections are less than a year away, this result came as a shock.

Hard graft

The real story of the Ternopil elections, however, is how corruption has permeated the voting process. The Party of Regions, generally considered pro-Russian and a misfit in patriotic regions such as Ternopil, won a surprising 10% of the vote. Its result was based, in part, on the northernmost areas of the Ternopil region, where the Moscow-dependent Orthodox Church dominates the Kremenets and Shumsky raions, or counties. But Regions' pre-election rating was a mere 3%. The circumstantial evidence is strong for undue influence being used to increase the result posted by the Regions, by a factor of three.

Another surprising result was that posted by the current "party of power," Single Center - the brainchild of Viktor Baloha, Yushchenko's chief of staff and the de facto president of Ukraine. Single Center's result was based on "administrative resources," ie. the misuse of government power. This stems from President Yushchenko's appointment powers - he personally appoints both the regional governor and the heads of local raions, who pulled all the strings they could.

Single Center was polling at 6% before the elections, but took third place with 14% of the vote. Voter apathy enhanced corruption as only half of the region's voters turned out, whereas during the last parliamentary elections the turnout was close to 75%.

A big loser from the Ternopil elections was former parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk. Yatseniuk is being heavily bankrolled by several Ukrainian oligarchs, but he bowed out of the Ternopil elections altogether. This decision belies some poll ratings, whose figures were obviously purchased, that give Yatseniuk a shot at the presidency.

Another big loser was Our Ukraine, which came in a desultory sixth place with only 5% of the vote (the Ukrainian People's Party came in fourth with 8%). Our Ukraine is currently a unique political animal. It was formally headed by President Yushchenko himself, but its parliamentary faction is headed by Mykola Martynenko, one of Yushchenko's numerous former associates who have turned against him and is placing his bets squarely on Tymoshenko.

From testimonies by his associates over the years, it has become clear that Yushchenko views himself in the role of the country's saviour. Given this messianic complex, he is set to go down as he governed - clueless as to what's really going on.

As traction continues to evade Yushchenko, Tymoshenko is regularly taking two steps forward, one step back. Despite her regular tendency to screw things up, Tymoshenko's gravitational pull is becoming ever more irresistible to many, who are mindful of the looming presidential elections, for which Tymoshenko remains a favourite, at least for now.

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