SIGNPOST: Yushchenko's annus horribilis

By bne IntelliNews January 15, 2007

Ben Aris in Berlin -

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko must be happy 2006 is over. After being swept to power in a popular revolution that made front pages around the world as the forces of democracy rose up in a romantic stand against the vestiges of communist-era authoritarianism and cronyism, the pock-marked president managed to drop the ball. Yushchenko starts this year on the back foot, fighting off an increasingly effective incursion into his area of powers by his nemesis in the Orange revolution, Viktor Yanukovych, who was elected prime minister in parliamentary elections last March.

The depth of Yushchenko's fall has been highlighted by a series of polls released over the Christmas holidays (for more on the political situation click here).

If parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, Yushchenko's party would be swept to the political sidelines, according to a poll by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Research and the Social Monitoring Centre held between December 5 and 12, which involved 2,279 people. The margin of error was 1.2-2.1%



If presidential elections were held tomorrow, then Yushchenko's nemesis Prime Minister Yanukovych would walk the elections to become president without needing to resort to the alleged vote rigging of the 2004 elections that sparked the Orange Revolution. This poll more than any other shows how Yushchenko's support has crashed in the last year.



Yanukovych also easily won the most votes in a poll by the Oleksandr Razumkov Centre for Economic and Political Studies on who was "the politician of the year" out of 26 possible candidates.

State of the nation

Over half of all Ukrainians think the situation in the country is worse than it was a year ago, according to the Institute of Social Research: 57% of Ukrainians said the overall economic situation of the country has worsened, while only 12% think it has improved. This result highlights the malaise as the Ukrainian economy has actually recovered strongly from a slump caused by the Orange Revolution and has been growing strongly since the middle of last year. Personal incomes soared 28% in real terms over the first 11 months of 2006 and by 16.3% in nominal terms, according to the State Statistics Committee of Ukraine.

Likewise, the poll found that 55% believe the political situation has deteriorated, while 14% believe it has improved. Again, it is surprising this number is less than the pessimism over the economy, as the political situation has clearly deteriorated significantly more.

However, Yushchenko is perceived as having delivered on some of his promises. Of those polled, 54% thought that corruption was still bad, while 30% thought the situation had improved. And 20% thought the state of democratic representation had got worse, while 56% said they saw no change and 18% said it had improved.

When asked what the most important event of 2006 was, those polled overwhelming voted for Ukraine's participation in the World Cup.

But Yanukovych is not having it all is own way. A poll by FOM-Ukraine company in December found 44.8% of Ukrainians do not approve of the actions of their prime minister against 41.6% that thought he was doing a good job.

However, the same poll found 67.3% disapproved of Yushchenko's actions, while only 21.5% thought he was doing a good job.

FOM also found that just under three-quarters of Ukrainians believed that their president and prime minister are locked in a battle for power.

EU, NATO

Yushchenko is also looking out of touch on his key policy goal of bring Ukraine in under the NATO umbrella. Ukrainian Institute of Social Research and the Social Monitoring centre also found that 58% of Ukrainians would vote against joining the western military alliance if a referendum on the issue were held tomorrow, while 24% would vote in favour.

However, 52% would vote in favour of joining the EU in a referendum, while 29% were against the idea. And 56% also approve of joining the WTO, while 23% would vote against.


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